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Carroll County group aiming to acknowledge lynching history, begin 'process of healing and reconciliation’

The building once used as the jail in Westminster, which held Townsend Cook, who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman in Mount Airy. He was later abducted from his cell and taken outside town where he was lynched.
The building once used as the jail in Westminster, which held Townsend Cook, who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman in Mount Airy. He was later abducted from his cell and taken outside town where he was lynched. (Courtesy Photo)

A Carroll County group will hold its first public meeting Saturday to begin a series of discussions on ways to bring awareness and improved understanding of at least one lynching of a black person in the county.

The Carroll County Coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project will have a meeting at the Westminster branch library Saturday at 2 p.m. The meeting will address acknowledgement of a “history of racial terrorism” in Carroll County, paying respect to lynching victim Townsend Cook, and exploring ideas for community remembrance projects in Carroll County as a way to promote a process of healing and reconciliation.

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“We expect this to be just educational to let the community know a little bit about lynching in Maryland and some of what we know about Townsend Cook," said Pam Zappardino, a member of the Carroll County Coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project. "There will be a couple videos that we’ll be showing, one that documents a lynching — I’m not sure which county, but it was in Maryland — and the other one has a little bit of video that will show the soil collection and the placing of a historical marker in Anne Arundel County and Howard County so that folks will get an idea of what we’re going to be trying to do.”

Not only is the coalition trying to spread awareness, but members also want to inform the public of their intentions to place a marker in Carroll County to make note of where any past lynchings have occurred.

As part of the process to install such a marker, the coalition will follow Equal Justice Initiative’s guidelines, which include having a public meeting in order to get civilian approval in addition to eventual approval from the county.

“This is to share with the public what’s going on, explain why we want to set up the memorial and to involve the whole public in the area where it happened,” said Roxanna Harlow, member of the local coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project.

The only known record of a lynching in Carroll County was the killing of Cook, a black man who was accused of assaulting a woman named Carries Knott of Mount Airy, claiming she tried to give Cook water when he assaulted her. About 40 masked men rush the county jail, taking Cook to a farm, where they hanged him. There was no investigation of the killing.

There have been at least 44 lynchings in Maryland’s history, according to research conducted at the Maryland State Archives, the Equal Justice Initiative and Bowie State University.

Erin Snell, member of the local coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, wants people to see how racial injustice is still relevant today.

“When it comes to systems that perpetuate racism, I think there are people that — I keep getting asked about how the past is connected to now. ‘Why bring this up?’ ” Snell said. “I think because it’s mostly white folks who are asking that question, I think perhaps it makes many people uncomfortable talking about it and sometimes we have to be uncomfortable and have those conversations and talk about difficult things like racism and white privilege in order to make a change today because there are very severe racial injustices going on now. I think it’s extremely important to work to end those injustices."

To those who ask about the relevance of this project and its goal, Harlow said she thinks people see race as a touchy subject and it will stay that way if it goes unaddressed.

“People kind of assume that it’s just a nationally touchy topic, that race is always going to be touchy, but it doesn’t have to be a nationally touchy topic,” Harlow said. “The reason that it’s touchy to talk about these things is because we haven’t come to terms with it in this country. We haven’t come to terms with the race-based violence that has existed in our country since its founding, and we haven’t come to terms with that, acknowledge that, and come to try to reconcile that and acknowledge that harm, and then to try to repair that harm. We haven’t done that here, which is why it continues to be touchy.”

Harlow said people think that not talking about such things is going to make it go away and talking about it brings tension that wasn’t there before, but in actuality the tension is always there and festers and it doesn’t go away.

Harlow hopes this project can start some kind of healing.

“So we are hoping with this project to have the opportunity to talk about a difficult topic and to start a conversation that can help us recognize and acknowledge and take responsibility for the race-based violence that occurred here in Carroll County,” she said. “And then to remember and give respect to the lynching victims to whom the lynching occurred and then to begin some sort of process of healing and reconciliation and conversation really around around that.”

The meeting on Saturday will be held at the library at 50 E. Main St. in Westminster. In the case of inclement weather, the event will be postponed to Feb. 22.

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Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this article.

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