Maryland Forms Commission to Investigate History of Lynching

In 2007, civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill published On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century, a work that investigated two well-known lynching cases in Maryland. The book in turn inspired researchers at the Maryland State Archives to build a database of all known lynching cases in the state. Now, these efforts have culminated in the creation of the state’s Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Maryland’s commission is the first state commission to address lynchings in the country. Legislation tasks the commission with researching the lynchings known to have occurred in the state, holding public meetings in the communities where lynchings occurred, and reporting their findings to the Maryland General Assembly at the end of 2021. The bill that created the commission also acknowledged that the victims of the lynchings were deprived the rights to life and due process. Further, it acknowledges that none of the victims’ families ever received an apology or compensation for their loss.

Between 1850 and 1940 at least forty African American men were lynched in Maryland. White communities and police would often refuse to investigate or acknowledge a lynching after if occurred. Lychings were intended to terrorize whole Black communities, so African Americans often refused to discuss lynchings publicly in order to protect themselves. However, Ifill believes that there is still evidence of these crimes out there, as they did not occur so long ago. She said, “We’re losing the last physical eyewitnesses to some of these events. But it’s not too late.”