In 2019, Maryland established the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first government-backed commission created to investigate racial lynching. After handing in an interim report to Governor Larry Hogan, the commission is now set to begin its investigation into Maryland’s history of lynching.
The commission is specifically tasked with investigating lynchings of African Americans by white mobs that took place in the nineteenth and twentieth century in Maryland. Investigators will begin by collecting oral histories and documents related to lynchings. In an interview with NPR’s Ailsa Chang, Charles Chavis Jr., the commission’s vice chairman, described what the commission will focus on in its investigations.
“We are centered and focused on salvaging the humanity first of the victims and then really laying out each case individually and hopefully bringing about some semblance of justice to the family members and the descendants of the deceased victims,” Chavis Jr. said.
Chavis Jr. explained that the work of the commission is particularly important because most historical scholarship on lynching focuses on the Deep South. However, researchers have documented forty-two lynchings in Maryland between 1854 and 1933. A 2015 report by the Equal Justice Initiative found Maryland to be one of the eight states were lynching was most common. By focusing on Maryland’s history of lynching, the commission aims to show that racial terror took place throughout the United States.
The commission also sees its investigations as directly connected to events happening today. “It’s important to note that we see the racial terror lynchings of old that took place in Maryland directly in relationship to the ongoing racial terror that we’re witnessing in the United States. And so that’s important to consider when we’re looking at this and investigating this today in this fractured America that we’re seeing as it relates to race relations,” Chavis Jr. said.