Deputies investigate cross burning on bridge in Alabama

Motorists driving along an interstate highway in a majority African American county near the home of historically black Tuskegee University late Thursday found a cross burning on an overpass, news outlets reported.

The flaming cross was on top of a bridge over Interstate 85 in Macon County Thursday night, Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson told WRBL-TV. Police were investigating, but no suspects or arrests were announced.

John Bolton, who saw the burning cross while in a car on I-85, told the news outlet he saw what “looked like a shadow” flee from the scene as he ran toward the blaze with two other men who were with him. He then called 911 while “one of the guys climbed up to the bridge to knock the cross down,” Bolton said.

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FILE- Sheriff Andre Brunson said the wooden cross was set ablaze Thursday night in Macon County. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

A few minutes later, deputies arrived and helped extinguish the fire, Brunson said. Once the fire was gone, Bolton said they saw a tire and a fuel canister had also been set on fire.

Cross burnings have historically been used by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations to rally supporters and terrorize black people in the South and elsewhere.

Brunson told the Opelika-Auburn News that police "just can’t let people get away doing that.”

“That is something to strike fear in people’s hearts, and we’re not going to let people make them afraid. We need to bring that person to justice.”

Founded as Tuskegee Institute, the university was an early leader in efforts to educate African Americans in the South after the Civil War. Macon County also was home to the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” in which the federal government let hundreds of black men go untreated for syphilis so they could study effects of the disease.