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A push for remembrance of lynching victims, and reconciliation during event at Harford Community College

Harford Community College staffers Lorraine Peniston, left, and Karla Wynn look at materials following an event to remember victims of lynching in Harford County and Maryland, held Wednesday in the HCC Student Center.
Harford Community College staffers Lorraine Peniston, left, and Karla Wynn look at materials following an event to remember victims of lynching in Harford County and Maryland, held Wednesday in the HCC Student Center. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Many families in the U.S., whose ancestors were victims of racially motivated lynchings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, still carry the trauma of those lynchings, generations after they happened.

Karla Wynn, who attended a public meeting Wednesday evening in the Student Center at Harford Community College to cover the history of lynchings in Maryland and remember the victims, said many families whose ancestors were lynched do not talk about it, even today.

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“It’s the psycho-social, spiritual, emotional and cultural trauma ... We’re still carrying this trauma in our genes, and it’s affecting us at all levels,” said Wynn, who lives in Baltimore City and works as an academic adviser at HCC.

Various racist incidents that have occurred recently show that we must study lynchings so that history doesn't repeat itself.

The event was put on by the Harford County committee of the nonprofit Maryland Lynching Memorial Project. The Towson-based organization “works to advance the cause of reconciliation in our state by documenting the history of racial terror lynchings, advocating for public acknowledgement of these murders and working to honor and dignify the lives of the victims,” according to its website.

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More than 4,000 African-Americans were lynched in the U.S. between 1865 and 1950, including at least 40 lynchings that happened in Maryland. The events, many of which were public, are described on the Lynching Memorial Project website as “acts of domestic terrorism” and “sadistic and grotesque displays meant to intimidate blacks and flaunt white superiority.”

“This [story] has to be told so we can be healed, for both sides to be healed,” said Lorraine Peniston, an Edgewood resident and colleague of Wynn in HCC’s Advising, Career and Transfer Services Office.

“The only way out is through, so we have to deal with the dark underbelly of the history [of the United States],” she said.

Peniston made a parallel with today’ justice system, “when people are accused of crimes and there’s no justice — they don’t have their say in court, usually due to a lack of legal representation.”

About 40 people attended the event Wednesday evening. The event included remarks from figures such as Iris Leigh Barnes, chair of the Harford committee of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, HCC faculty member Stephanie Hallock and Will Schwarz, president and founder of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project.

There was also a moment of silence and reading of the names of victims of lynching in Harford County, such as Isaac Moore on July 22, 1868, Jim Quinn in Oct. 2, 1869 and Lewis Harris on March 27, 1900, as well as the unnamed and undocumented lynching victims.

Two documentaries on lynching were also shown — “Abbeville,” a film about the death of black farmer Anthony Crawford at the hands of a white mob in Abbeville, S.C., and “Burn: The Lynching of George Armwood,” which was written, edited and produced by Schwarz about the death of George Armwood in Princess Anne on the Eastern Shore in 1933.

Schwarz said after the event that history, made by “people who came before us,” cannot be changed, but he noted the effect of that history are “the responsibly we’ve inherited and we have to embrace it.”

“I was thrilled at the turnout, and I think people were engaged and enthusiastic,” he said when asked his thoughts on Wednesday’s event.

A lynching in 1900 in Harford County is revisited in the wake of last week's opening of the new National Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.

Barnes, who is curator of the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum at Morgan State University in Baltimore and executive director of the Hosanna School Museum in Darlington, said she does not want to characterize lynching as just part of African-American history, but she stressed it is part of American history.

“It’s everyone past, and it will take everyone to change the future,” she said.

Barnes said members of the audience as a whole raised their hand when asked if they want to remain involved in efforts to memorialize lynching victims. She said a date for a meeting in April will be set, when the next steps will be discussed, and people can sign up for various committees.

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People can visit the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, at https://www.mdlynchingmemorial.org, for more information.

Aberdeen resident Sharoll Love said she might join the Harford County committee and that she will be involved in the project “some kind of way.”

“[I] was happy to see that we’re going to do something up here in Harford,” Love said.

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