At least 44 men in Maryland and thousands nationwide lost their lives to lynchings. Now activists are shining a light on the gruesome practice hoping to start an honest and healing conversation. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)
Some people would like to keep lynchings in the past. It happened so long ago, they will say. Why dredge up animosity from a generation ago?
One reader wrote in a recent letter to the editor: Resentment can be stirred among white individuals who hold no racist views yet are being made to feel that they somehow are responsible for what a very small number of prejudiced Marylanders did a century ago.
And it wasn’t just a handful of people who participated in these very public displays of what were, since people were rarely convicted, in effect legally sanctioned murders, often in supposed retribution for unproven “crimes.” For example, winking at a white woman. White people from all backgrounds — yes even professional educated people — would show up in masses in a form of sick vigilante justice to watch, cheering as if they were at a football game. They would take photos they turned into post cards and collect the genitalia of the male victims for souvenirs.
The practice tore families apart for no other reason than the desire of some to exert power and control over the African American community to keep them in their place. The traumatic remnants of lynching still exist today, and because public officials of the time were complacent in allowing it to happen — and in many cases, actively involved — the government should also play a leading role in seeking reconciliation for the abhorrent practice. Private groups such as the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project are already doing their part to bring attention to this issue, and it’s time the state stepped up as well.
Creating a statewide commission is the perfect way to expand such efforts to all communities in Maryland. Delegate Pena-Melnyk’s legislation proposes the formation of a 17-member Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would be made up of civil rights leaders, historians, faculty from the state’s four historically black colleges and the Maryland Attorney General’s office. The body would come up with ways to reconcile the harm lynchings inflicted on communities. Putting memorials near sites of where lynchings occurred would be a good start.
In some cases, there seems to be a complete ignorance, or perhaps a blatant disregard, you be the judge, to the historic understanding of lynching. Just this week fashion brand Burberry apologized for featuring hoodie with a noose around the neck during a show at London Fashion Week. One of its models complained on social media that it was a tasteless depiction of suicide. For others, it looked like a lynching rope.
The opening of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice lynching memorial last year in Alabama helped spark a new conversation about the issue. It’s time that Maryland joins that conversation in a meaningful way.