Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Legacy of Lynching on the Eastern Shore

Sherrilyn Ifill, a professor at the University of Maryland and the author of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century, held an open discussion of lynching’s legacy on the Eastern Shore at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Chestertown, last week. While facilitating the conversation on the long silence that followed these grim incidents, the Civil Rights attorney pointed out that that these terrible crimes did not bypass Kent County. The time flew by all too quickly during this insightful evening as many interesting points were made, including the fact that no one seemed to know about the cases in Kent. As I drove back to Elkton, I had plenty of time to think about the evening. The title is a valuable account of a violent period and the research was first-class. But as I drove on I began thinking about the discussion, particularly about the silence and the fact that the crowd that filled the sanctuary was unaware of the Kent County tragedies. The same would apply in Cecil County I believe for there were cases here so I thought we should at least get these tragedies into the historical record.

  • On the evening of July 29, 1872, three African-American men were brought before the Magistrate Bell in Warwick on the charge of firing a dwelling near Sassafras. During the hearing, it was ordered that John Jones, Robert T. Handy and a young person named Thomas were to be committed to the Cecil County Jail for further investigation. Special Constable Merritt put the three men in his carriage (two were manacled and one was riding free) for the trip to the county seat. As they passed through a woods near Pivot Bridge (outside Chesapeake City), a group of men “in disguise” surrounded the carriage and took the prisoners. Hours later, when Sheriff Thomas and Deputy White arrived from Elkton, they found one of the men “strung up by a rope around his neck to the limb of a hickory tree,” according to the Delawarean. No trace of the other two men was found.
  • In September 1861, a young African-American named Frederick was charged with rape. After an investigation in Cecilton, the Cecil Democrat, reported that he was “taken to a tree in the vicinity of the act and hung.”

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