In May 1919, two white men, John Dowdy and Levi Evans went into the black section of Milan. They invaded a home and attempted to assault two young black girls. When the two girls attempted to hide under the porch, Dowdy and Evans began ripping up the floor to get to them. Washington, a black man, attempted to defend the girls and get the men to leave. After a struggle, Washington, who was 72 years old, shot and killed Dowdy. Two days later, a crowd of white men, led by a Baptist minister, removed Washington from the jail. The crowd hung him from a post and shot him repeatedly, until his body fell in pieces from the post. White residents rioted in the city, damaging and burning many black homes. They threatened black citizens, lest they dare to speak out about the events in public.
Local authorities attempted to cover up the incident, but a local preacher, Reverend Judson Dinkins sent a letter to Monroe Work at the Tuskegee Institute, who in turn passed the letter to John Shillady of the NAACP. When Governor of Georgia Hugh Dorsey (term 1917–1921) became aware of the incident, he offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the mob. Dr. Floyd McRae offered an additional $500 reward. Although the perpetrators were well known in the community, no one claimed the reward, and no one was ever charged for the murder. Washington's corpse was left there for a full day.
- "Negro Man Hanged for Shooting White Man to Protect Colored Girls". Albuquerque Morning Journal. 26 July 1919.
- "Georgias Shame". Caytons Weekly. 20 September 1919.
- McWhirter, Cameron (2011). Red Summer The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Henry Holt and Company. p. 52. ISBN 9780805089066.
- "Rewards Offered In Lynching Case". Atlanta Constitution. 27 July 1919.
- "Large Reward is Offered to Find Lynchers". The Pensacola Journal. 27 July 1919.
- "$1,500 Posted for Arrest of Lynchers of Negro". New York Tribune. 27 July 1919.
- Voogd, Jan (2008). Race Riots and Resistance: the Red Summer of 1919. Peter Lang Publishing Group. ISBN 9781433100673.