EJI joined hundreds of social justice activists, local and state elected officials, and community members at Whitmore Park in Annapolis, Maryland, on Saturday to dedicate a historical marker commemorating five African Americans killed in racial terror lynchings in Anne Arundel County.
The historical marker acknowledges the racial terror lynchings of John Simms, George Briscoe, Wright Smith, Henry Davis, and King Johnson.
Connecting the Dots Anne Arundel County, a coalition of local organizations committed to racial justice initiatives, organized the marker dedication in partnership with EJI.
Speakers at the ceremony included Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley and State Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, D-College Park, who sponsored a bill creating the nation’s first statewide truth commission empowered to investigate racial terror lynchings and address the legacy of racial terror. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law in April.
“Some truth must be unvarnished. Some truth must be unfiltered,” said Carl Snowden, convener of the county Caucus of African American Leaders. “Henry Davis was killed to set an example. The example was designed to intimidate and create fear. It was to say to every Black man, woman and child in Anne Arundel County: Know your place; don’t get out of line.”
“The truth is that people who look like me, and may have been related to me, deliberately and knowingly used torture and murder to terrorize the African American community of this county,” said County Executive Steuart Pittman. “We know it happened five times in the form of lynching, but we also know that those five lynchings were not isolated incidents.”
Madison Medley, a senior at Meade High School, delivered a powerful reading of her essay entitled “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” which earned her first place in the EJI Racial Justice Essay Contest. She and four of her peers were awarded scholarships for college tuition.
Ms. Medley addressed the presumption of guilt and dangerouness that burdens African Americans today as a legacy of our history of racial injustice. Students at her majority-Black high school are three times more likely to be charged with crimes than the county public school average, the Capital Gazette reports.
“Black people within our society do not have the privilege of being innocent until proven guilty,” Ms. Medley said. “They are often seen as guilty until proven innocent.”
Lynchings in Anne Arundel County
At least five racial terror lynchings took place in Anne Arundel County, traumatizing the Black community. These lawless acts of violence targeted African Americans accused of misconduct or crimes, all of whom were killed without trial, many under false accusation.
In 1875, a white mob lynched John Simms at Simms Crossing after seizing him from the county jail, which stood on Calvert Street at the location where the marker was placed.
On November 26, 1884, George Briscoe was being transported to the jail when a white mob abducted and lynched him by the Magothy River Bridge.
On October 6, 1898, Wright Smith was taken from the county jail by a white mob intent on lynching him. He attempted to escape, but the mob shot him in the back of the head as he fled.
Henry Davis was seized from the jail on December 21, 1906, dragged by a mob through the nearby Clay Street Black community, and hanged by College Creek. He was shot over 100 times.
Five years later, a white mob abducted King Johnson from the Brooklyn Station House on Christmas Day, 1911. The mob beat Mr. Johnson, dragged him through the streets, and shot him to death.
Although the perpetrators of this violence were often known to law enforcement, no one was ever convicted of crimes for these acts of racial terror.
Lynching in America
Thousands of Black people were the victims of lynching and racial violence in the United States between 1877 and 1950. The lynching of African Americans during this era was a form of racial terrorism intended to intimidate Black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation.
Lynching was most prevalent in the South, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. After the Civil War, violent resistance to equal rights for African Americans and an ideology of white supremacy led to violent abuse of racial minorities and decades of political, social, and economic exploitation.
In an expanded edition of Lynching in America, EJI also documented racial terrorism beyond Southern borders, detailing more than 300 lynchings of Black people in eight states with high lynching rates in the Midwest and the Upper South, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, West Virginia, Maryland, Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio.
Lynching became the most public and notorious form of terror and subordination. White mobs were usually permitted to engage in racial terror and brutal violence with impunity. Many Black people were pulled out of jails or given over to mobs by law enforcement officials who were legally required to protect them. Terror lynchings often included burning and mutilation, sometimes in front of crowds numbering in the thousands.
In response to this racial terror and violence, millions of Black people fled the South and could never return, which deepened the anguish and pain of lynching. Many of the names of lynching victims were not recorded and will never be known.
EJI’s Community Remembrance Project
EJI’s Community Remembrance Project is part of our campaign to recognize the victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites, erecting historical markers, and developing the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which acknowledges the horrors of racial injustice.
As part of its effort to help towns, cities, and states confront and recover from tragic histories of racial violence and terrorism, EJI is joining with communities to install historical markers in communities where the history of lynching is documented. EJI believes that by reckoning with the truth of the racial violence that has shaped our communities, community members can begin a necessary conversation that advances healing and reconciliation.