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Tuesday, July 11, 2023

A historic event is happening tomorrow at the Albemarle County Courthouse. Exactly 125 years after a Black Charlottesville man was killed by a mob of white people, then posthumously indicted of assaulting a woman, a judge will decide whether that indictment should stand.

A photo of a historical marker with trees and sunshine behind it
Credit: Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Albemarle Commonwealth’s attorney will ask a judge to overturn a 125-year-old rape indictment for a Black man lynched outside Charlottesville

Some of you already know the story of John Henry James. But for those who don’t, James was a Black man living in Charlottesville at the turn of the 20th Century. We don’t know much about him other than he sold ice cream and, in 1898, was accused of raping a well known white woman named Julia Hotopp outside the gate of her home. James denied assaulting Hotopp, but he was arrested and charged. He never got to court.

A plaque outside of Albemarle County Courthouse tells the story: White Charlottesville residents called for his execution. In an effort to keep him safe, officials tried to move James to Staunton to await his court date. They were moving him back to Charlottesville for court the next day, but a group of armed white men boarded the train at a crossing where the Farmington Country Club now stands, and hauled James off. Outside, he was greeted by a mob of 150 people. They threw a rope around his neck and, as James cried out that he was innocent, hung him from a nearby tree. The men in the crowd then took turns shooting his body. According to the Shenandoah Herald, he was shot more than 75 times.

“The body of James was left hanging on the tree about two hours,” the Richmond Planet wrote at the time. “Hundreds of people visited the scene this afternoon. Many of them gathered relics of the occasion, taking some portions of his clothing, etc.”

There were prominent Charlottesville men leading the lynching mob. So, the next day at the Albemarle County Courthouse, a grand jury indicted James as if he were still alive. There were no consequences for any of the people who killed him.

Anyone can attend the hearing to overturn James’ indictment on Wednesday. It’s happening at 4 p.m. in the Albemarle County Circuit Court at 501 East Jefferson Street in Charlottesville. But, if you’d like a seat, you should probably get there early. 

Clerk of Court Jon Zug said he “will be shocked if it’s not at capacity.” Fewer than 100 people can fit in the courtroom, he said, depending on how comfortable people are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. No cell phones will be allowed.

Those who wish to drive to the courthouse should park in the city parking garages, Zug advised. There are a few two-hour parking spots near the courthouse, which is located in Court Square in Charlottesville, at 501 East Jefferson Street, but those spots will fill up fast.

Short & Important: Charlottesville is about to have (yet another) new city manager

Also happening tomorrow, Charlottesville’s City Council will announce who our next city manager will be. The Council chose this manager from a pool of three finalists this month. The Council never released the names of its finalists, and, unlike past hirings, they did not include community members in the decision.

We’re asking the Council why it chose to not include community members in making this decision, and more about what that hiring process was. Watch for that story later this week!

A rearview mirror showing a row of houses and cars and a wide road. An overlay shows a purple logo with the words "Changing Charlottesville" and a gradient pattern in white.
Credit: Andrew Shurtleff/Charlottesville Tomorrow

While The Meadows is one of Charlottesville’s newer neighborhoods, it’s population has declined in the last decade

Finally, we’ve published our latest installment of Changing Charlottesville, which chronicles the history of each Charlottesville neighborhood. This week’s story is about The Meadows, a rural area that became residential around the 1970s. Today, it’s a mix of residential and commercial, bisected by Route 29, with the Super Amanecer Latin American store on one side and Whole Foods on the other.

This neighborhood is one of the most ethnically diverse in the city. It also contains some of the most affordable housing, though in the last decade the number of people living there has declined.

To read about this and other Charlottesville neighborhoods, check out the whole Changing Charlottesville series.

Last week, our reporters focused on longer-term work and we let First Person Charlottesville shine. We hope you enjoyed those stories and had a great Fourth of July holiday. We’re glad to be back!

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a