This time someone listened, Mr. Taylor!

Friday June 12th, it happened. The historical marker about Confederate Gen. John Henry Winder was removed from the Wicomico County courthouse lawn. This time, someone heard you, Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Edward Taylor, former county councilman and civic leader who recently passed, had twice asked that the county remove the historical marker which many felt was a symbol of hurtful history that had no business being showcased on government property. It’s not that people felt the marker should be destroyed. They felt that the use of public property like a courthouse lawn provided a glorification of a war over slavery. And Winder’s role running the prison camps including Andersonville, as briefly mentioned on the marker, accentuated that defense of slavery, in a governmental location. There were other reasons, such as the less-than-full story about Gen. Winder who may well have been hung for war crimes had he not died soon after the end of the Civil War.  Others questioned why have a marker about a historical figure who was never a resident of Salisbury and lived before there was a Wicomico County and a courthouse.

In a surprise unannounced move on Friday, county employees led by Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver dismantled the historical marker. It was a surprise to just about everyone. But the days leading up to its removal, another online petition drive had begun for its removal and was gaining quicker acceptance than the previous petition drive a few years ago. This effort was riding on the momentum of recent nationwide protests against police brutality in connection to the murder of George Floyd and others. Still, there was no indication that this renewed effort to remove the controversial historical marker would not be an equally difficult fight, given that previous efforts failed.

For the day and the weekend, the sign post remained, left for later removal. The pole is deep and anchored with cement, typical of historical markers, and removal will take digging and ensuring the hole is filled in to avoid accidents. The pole was a temporary visible reminder, for some so surprised that it happened. It was tangible evidence of its former existence for those happily stunned by the marker’s removal.

For those who sought the marker’s removal, the motives and decisions leading to removal that day were immaterial. They were just so thrilled to see it happened. Some had expressed being upset that there had been no fanfare and chance for crowds to watch the event themselves. Others, such as myself, felt the quick method was good to prevent outbursts to derail the plan. And although some community members have and will likely continue to complain about its removal, the fact remains that this battle is over. For many, it is a great relief.  And as I think of Mr. Taylor, who initiated this request before doing so was a nationwide movement, I smile, hoping somehow he knows its gone.

It is indeed a sense of relief, a feeling that one can breath more easily. This one effort means that the words of some who found their voices historically ignored, have now been heard. It’s a small step, but one in the right direction towards healing. It means that quite possibly, the people of Salisbury are at least open to conversation.

 

Linda Duyer

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Rant in Honor of Edward T. Taylor

Warning, this is indeed an editorial rant, so don’t read it if you’re not up for such a thing.

Earlier this week, educator and former Wicomico County Councilman Edward T. Taylor passed at the age of 88. So, now there are many well-deserved and heartfelt accolades and stories about him. No doubt there will be kind words from current councilmen alongside those expressed by family, friends, other community members, and colleagues.

I vaguely remember meeting him decades ago at an event at the historic Rosenwald school structure in Wetipquin. Much later, I invited him to speak at a public program at the Nabb Research Center of Salisbury University, on the history and his memories of those Rosenwald schools. Much more recently I had phoned him a few years ago, suggesting that he might attend a county council meeting and again express his feelings about the Confederate historical marker on the grounds of the county courthouse, about Gen. John Henry Winder, C.S.A., as there was an effort to seek the removal of that marker to a more appropriate location. That effort failed.

It may well be that my current attitude is being affected by the craziness of this year, with the pandemic, and more recently the nationwide protests about police violence resulting in the killing of African Americans. The news may well have soured me.

When I learned of Mr. Taylor’s passing.  I smiled, remembering him as a nice man and someone who most likely endured difficult times during his tenure on the county council.

But then, my thoughts remembered Ed Taylor speaking at the podium before the county council, one of many who came to comment about that Confederate marker which honors a man who not only never lived in our area but was known for his leadership in the notorious Confederate prisons throughout the south and for his ill treatment of people. Taylor along with other African Americans expressed how deeply troubling that marker is to them. They spoke eloquently of how and why that marker troubled them, of the feelings they had, and about the difficulties explaining that marker to young family members.

But you see, that was not the first time he spoke up on the matter.  He had done so as a letter to the editor of the Daily Times back in 2014, well before the efforts in recent years nationwide to remove controversial Confederate markers and statues.  A family member had told him about the history and significance of Winder, something he had not earlier known, prompting him to ask for its removal. Taylor viewed the marker’s placement on the courthouse grounds as a sign of disrespect to many in the African American community. He was met with silence.

Then, I watched as Taylor repeated those concerns to the county council in 2017, concerns repeated by others at that public meeting. I watched as once again, he was ignored.  Others were ignored as well, but it was particularly painful for me to watch him be ignored, since I had asked him to be there to try and help.  There wasn’t even an attempt by county council members to politely thank him for his comments.  I watched as this nice, aging local Civil Rights leader, educator, and former public figure be flatly ignored.

I was remembering all of this while learning of Taylor’s passing. Again, perhaps the events surrounding the recent murder by police of George Floyd in Minnesota was irrationally affecting me, but I could not help it. I got madder and madder. I remembered a rumor of a county councilman’s comments that the Confederate marker would be removed “over my dead body,” remembering it fueled my anger. I remembered our white county council president’s remarks following the public comments about that marker, and his rambling over unrelated issues. His anger was clear; even more clear was that he had no sympathy or respect whatsoever for the feelings of African American residents. He, and others clearly felt that the feelings of white residents meant by far more than those of black residents.

It’s crazy how nationwide upheaval and protests can affect one’s thoughts. My sadness over Taylor’s passing led to remembering the total lack of respect given to him, not once but twice, over that marker issue. It led me to remember many of our county council president’s remarks at that public forum. It led me to remember that Cannon family members, as well as other white community leaders, achieved very comfortable lives for themselves off the backs of local African Americans, in a list of ways far too long to elaborate on here. And by 2017, county leaders didn’t give a rat’s ass about the feelings of the African American residents they represent; and in fact, their rudeness of ignoring Ed Taylor was painfully obvious.

So, now that he has passed, the respect will be feigned by some. The respect and love by many, including myself, will be real.  I just wish that the few that may feign respect now, the ones who rudely ignored him in life, don’t cross my path.

Thank you, Mr. Taylor for all the times you helped me. Thank you for being the mentor to many and for your kindness.  Thank you for your stories of Wetipquin. Thank you for gracing the lives of so many.

 

Linda Duyer

Posted in Maryland, People, Uncategorized

Centreville: who were these courageous black men?

In 1894, a black man named William Jackson was executed at the jail in Centreville. His fate occupies only a page or so in my Mob Law on Delmarva book which lists cases of violence on the Eastern Shore between about 1870 and 1940.  The circumstances of his arrest for killing a white farmer in Queen Anne’s County were briefly described.

But, for some reason, I’ve not been able to get this case out of my head. My thoughts keep coming back to it. I’ve never researched this case, but one account in the Baltimore Sun mesmerized me, making me wonder not about William Jackson, but rather the hundreds of courageous black men who came to his defense.

I am assuming courage, because the risks to the men who tried to protect William Jackson must have been immense. To this day, I wonder who they were.  I hope there remains descendants, because there is pride and astonishment towards these unknown men.

Jackson was arrested in April of 1894 for the crime and brought to the Centreville jail. Soon after, Jackson was removed from the jail and transported to city jail in Baltimore. According to the Baltimore Sun, “The prompted action of State’s Attorney Hopper and the sheriff of Queen Anne’s county in removing Jackson from the Centreville jail probably averted bloodshed and loss of additional lives.” Translated, the threat of an imminent lynching was real.

What captured my attention was the statement in the newspaper by Deputy Sheriff T. S. Roberts who was drafted to transport Jackson to Baltimore.

“Intense excitement prevails throughout the northern part of Queen Anne’s county, and it was expected that a lynching party would go to Centreville Thursday night and take Jackson from the jail and hang him to the nearest tree.  The colored people in and around Centreville shared in the feeling that Jackson would be lynched, and they assembled about the jail in large numbers, armed with clubs and other weapons with which to defend Jackson from lynchers.  Shortly after nightfall fully three hundred colored men were near the jail.  About two hundred white men were also there. Reports of the intention of farmers living in the neighborhood of the murder to lynch Jackson added to the excitement and it was decided to bring the prisoner to Baltimore.”

“Preparations for departure were quietly made, and about 11 o’clock Thursday night I drove out of the jail yard in a buggy, with Jackson heavily ironed. For fear of meeting a party of lynchers a circuitous route was taken for Queenstown. On the outskirts of Centreville a party of colored men formed in line across the road and demanded of me where I was going with my prisoner.  I told them I would take him to Baltimore, and after Jackson had begged them for God’s sake to allow him to be taken to a place of safety they permitted us to drive away.  A few miles from Centreville we met a crowd of colored men hurrying to the jail, and they had to be appeased with the same statement before we could continue our journey.  We reached Queenstown at 1 o’clock in the morning. I at once summoned a posse to guard the prisoner, and kept him locked up in a room at the Chester Hotel until 10 o’clock, when we took the steamer Emma Ford for Baltimore….”

Jackson was later tried, convicted, and in July executed at the Centreville jail. One newspaper account described that most of the crowd witnessing the execution were white. There had been no disturbance, but a photograph was taken of Jackson before he was hung; after he was hung, members of the crowd took pieces of the rope.

This was just one case of legal executions which some historians call legal lynching’s. But reading the account by Deputy Sheriff T. S. Roberts, I could not stop wondering who were those black men.  Were they risking a war with white would-be lynchers in front of the jail that night?  The courageous men were armed and were clearly ready to fight to protect this man.  Later they stopped Roberts, as it was common for prisoners to be stolen away for a lynching. Another band of black men also came to keep that from happening.

Who were these people? Were they farmers, shopkeepers; did some of them live in town? Were their livelihoods threatened for their defensive actions?  Did any become harmed or worse following this? Were there other retaliations? They had to know the dangers, yet they rallied as a protective mob of their own, managing to keep lynchers at bay.  What were their names? Are there descendants of them around today?

These amazing men knew the ultimate fate of William Jackson. All they could do was try and prevent a lynching, knowing that fate was unimaginably cruel, one that Jackson himself begged to be held in safety until his ultimate fate.  Those men numbering in the hundreds were incredible.  I wish I knew their names, to honor them for their bravery.

 

Linda Duyer

Posted in Maryland, People, Uncategorized

Coronavirus: how we can be ignorant of unfolding history

I am writing this on April 22, 2020. It feels like the world has been shut down completely for a year, when it’s only been a few weeks. Already my memory of current history fades.

How can we expect people to learn about history if we struggle to understand current history, let alone distant history? Yet, precisely because of this struggle, the necessity of history in print and repeatedly explained by educators becomes abundantly clear. How can we rely on word of mouth for history of a century or two ago, when we don’t even know or recall what happened two months ago? The importance of history are its lessons. But the mind is a fickle thing, so don’t assume everyone knows those lessons.

I cannot recall when I first hear the term coronavirus.  I know it was in connection with China events. But the word was never typed into my journal until Friday, March 13th. I had recorded it because the day before, Maryland’s Governor had announced school closings to begin on Monday. Salisbury’s mayor began posting videos to social media, explaining closures of city public meetings and how this might impact the public. Salisbury University and WorWic Community College were converting classes to online. Ocean City cancelled its upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade, and the City of Salisbury began announcing event closures, including the upcoming annual Marathon.  As sudden as it appears in my journal, it only seemed sudden. There had been talk in the news about this virus and that our region was now affected. But I had ignored the problem until the day I wrote down the name of that problem.

I worked that Saturday, switching days at the Julia A. Purnell Museum where I worked. There was already talk about likely closing the museum but it had not yet happened. Turns out that Saturday was the last. By Monday, the state had announced closures of restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and stores — allowing only stores deemed essential, like groceries, pharmacies, banks, and gas stations.  Throughout that week, we kept the museum open, but by about March 21st, that changed. The Town of Snow Hill had officially closed everything. I packed a few things to work on remotely and headed home.  Life in March changed dramatically.  It was as if it all changed in the blink of an eye. A month later, the world around me that had shut down remained shut. A surreal existence.

I thought I was a good consumer of current events. I had watched some of the coronavirus news coming out of China and sweeping the world. I remember hearing of the news out of Washington State of the first evidence of the virus in our country. I remember the news coming from that state was one of alarm, yet the news coming out of Washington, D.C. seemed confusing.  Apparently, I was not a good consumer nor a good listener.  And I will admit to wondering what was all the fuss about, what did this virus have to do with me.  Were these actions extreme? What happened?

And so, like with lots of current events that confuse me, I turned to PBS’ Frontline, watching it’s April feature on the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in our country. Watching it, I was reminded of some of the news stories. But I was also made painfully aware, that there are lessons to be learned by all history, even as that history is unfolding.

Online, I have seen calls for people to record their experiences throughout this pandemic. A good idea. It’s not about current events. It’s about living through current events; it’s about history. It’s smart to record history while it’s fresh in our minds.

Linda Duyer

Posted in Uncategorized

1878 DE: no rights which a governor is bound to respect

In 2005, historian Yohuru Williams wrote about the history of Delaware executions and lynchings. One particular case involved journalism drawing on a famous phrase.

In March 1878, two African Americans, Samuel Chambers and George Collins, were legally executed in Delaware. Local accounts described the men as field hands who were accused of the rape of a white woman and assault on her husband.  Nothing entirely unusual about this history, given the time period, although it prompted the threat of a near-lynching.

However, the white “victims” of the time were no ordinary couple. Williams described them as “a pair of vagabonds from Philadelphia,” who “claimed that the laborers had lured them into a field under the pretense of helping them find work when they suddenly assaulted the husband and took turns sexually assaulting his wife.”  It didn’t take long for Chambers and Collins to be tried, convicted, and sentenced to die.

Apparently, the white “vagabonds” had not quite anticipated the two men might die, or maybe they experienced momentary guilt, for the husband wrote a letter admitting the ploy, that the woman, to whom he was not married, had been a prostitute and that their problems with the two men were due to some argument over payment. The couple fabricated the story and it all escalated to the mens’ destiny of death.

On learning this, a Wilmington, Delaware citizens group worked to achieve a reprieve for the two condemned men.  They even located the woman, Kate O’Toole, who agreed to write the Governor to seek pardons for the men.

Governor John Price Cochran refused to commute their sentences and the two men died at the gallows on March 22, 1878.

Williams described one media response. “In response to the governor’s decision not to intervene, the editor of the Philadelphia Times observed, ‘It is evident that the Negro has no rights in Delaware which a white Governor is bound to respect.’

The Wilmington Every Evening newspaper predictably disagreed with the Philadelphia Times, refusing to believe the truth and saying that the executions were a good thing, claiming that it was preferable “that the meanest and poorest woman who lives in or comes to our State shall be safe from such outrages committed by these men.”

Kudos to the Philadelphia Times for drawing on the language of the 1857 Dred Scott case.

(Source:  Yohuru Williams, “A Tragedy with a Happy Ending? The Lynching of George White in History and Memory,” Pennsylvania History, 72 (3): 292-304)

Posted in Delaware, People, Uncategorized

MLTRC: time to give as it plans to take

OPINION:

It’s time for the Maryland Lynching Truth & Reconciliation Commission to prove to the public that the historical contributions of local historians and interested parties are important, valued, and shared.

Growing pains, lack of substantive funding, and disruptions by the coronavirus are no longer viable excuses.  And it’s not enough to say thank you (although it couldn’t hurt), but rather, it’s time for the Commission to live up to its mandated transparency.

In the six or so months since the Commission rolled up its sleeves towards the work of Maryland lynching truth & reconciliation, there has been a lot of talk about collaboration with the public as well as planning for it, but little evidence of actually doing it. And now that it’s clear the Commission has little or no funding for actual historical research, the Commission must rely even more on the research done by others throughout the state. As a result, the Commission plans to collect everything it possibly can through public hearings (scheduled by delays for nearly a year from now) and other means. It plans to cast a wide net to take its catch of the work done by locals, work that has taken them months if not years to collect.

There has been a lot of discussion by the Commission about plans to share on its website the historical information the Commission collects.  So far, this has not happened, not even a detailed plan for doing so.  Yet, the business of collecting has begun.

On Saturday, April 18, 2020, representatives of various local groups attended an online invitation-only meeting of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, an organization which assists the Commission.  The Project invited members of local coalitions to describe the work they’ve been doing and planning. It’s clear there is a lot of independent local research and documentation projects going on pertaining to the lynching history of Maryland.  Several Commission members on hand to listen became aware of just how invaluable a resource are these independent groups.

It is not clear what historical information has been provided to the Commission, although I have been told the Commission has been provided some documents.  Yet it’s not clear if this is true. Without the Commission being transparent to the extent that is fair about the documentation it collects, the public is in the dark.

It’s time for the Commission to create that transparency, now.  Not in a month, not after the public hearings months away, but now.

It’s not simply a matter of informing the public what the Commission has or avoiding duplication of work.  It’s a matter of taking.

The Commission is about to rely almost exclusively on documentation provided by local groups and institutions.  Without being transparent about what it collects, the result is a PR nightmare — it perpetuates a horrible practice involving race relations over the years, the practice of taking without giving anything in return.

If I, as a researcher, give the Commission a document I know important to the history of Maryland lynching and to the work of the Commission, I want to be certain the public is aware of it and has access to it.  It is not enough to thank me for my document.  The Commission is a public trust, and must therefore share what it is given.  And morally, it is the right thing to do. If I share a document, I want all of Maryland to know the Commission has it.

If the Commission continues to be perceived as a taker and not a giver, then contributions will be minimal and not fulfill the goals of the Commission.  People throughout Maryland have been remaining quiet and delaying contributing because they are waiting to see if the Commission is serious about transparency.  Instead, the Commission has been way too quiet and ignoring transparency.  How does the Commission expect contributions if it cannot be transparent about them?

I have been told that historian Michael Dixon has passed on to the Commission his completed report, “An Investigation of Racial Terror Lynchings: Cecil County, MD,” dated September 23, 2019. I know Mike to be a committed and thorough local historian who freely shares his historical research. Why does the Commission not have a listing on its website including Dixon’s report?  It certainly is an important one, for it describes little-known lynching history. Mike gladly shares his work.  The least the Commission can do is acknowledge that work and share it with the public so that we can all learn from it.  And this is only one example.

It gives me no pleasure being critical of the Commission’s lack of demonstrated transparency, because I want to see the work succeed.  But what the Commission fails to understand is that the work of all these independent researchers such as Mike Dixon and others will continue.  They will succeed.  The success of the Commission depends on them, not the other way around.  If the Commission fails or falls short, the blame will be the lack of transparency and collaboration.  I truly do not want to see that happen.  This history and its relevancy to today is too important.

Linda Duyer

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Visit documents of the Somerset Lynching Truth & Reconciliation Committee

In early March 2020, the Somerset Lynching Truth & Reconciliation Committee formed and met for the first time, led by Dr. Kirkland Hall. Hall is also a board member of the Maryland Lynching Truth & Reconciliation Commission formed in 2019.

I am part of this committee but as usual I prefer to take the photos than be in them. We have created a Facebook page as well as a website. Both are works in progress.

But if interested, there is an important document shared on the website’s page about George Armwood who was lynched in 1933.  Several years ago, I was given the Johnny Robins IV Private Papers with permission to share them. They came in a single PDF file, which can be viewed via the website. At the time of the Armwood lynching, John Robins was the Somerset County States Attorney. The papers are mostly documents exchanged between Robins and Maryland Attorney General William Preston Lane, Jr.

Included in the papers are statements by John Robins, Mary Denston, George Armwood, and various Maryland State police officers who were in Princess Anne at the time of the lynching, along with other documents.

Readers who view the statements of Denston and Armwood are cautioned against making conclusions from them.  If anything, they raise more questions than answers. Of particular interest are the police accounts which identify some of the mob members. There is even a table summarizing observations of the mob members. This image is one of those tables, this one about the police observations of mob member Rusty Heath.

The documents are an interesting look into what was happening at the time, but it is only one look. However, I am grateful to the Robins family for sharing the documents.

Also on the website pages for George Armwood and other lynching victims are newspaper articles that can be viewed by following the links.

 

Linda Duyer

Posted in Maryland

Virginia’s commitment to healing and reconciliation

 

 

 

Did you know that early in 2019, the State of Virginia officially committed to healing and reconciliation?

In February of 2019, the Virginia General Assembly passed SJ 297 (McClellan) and HJ 655 (McQuinn), which resolved “to acknowledge with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching within the Commonwealth  and call for reconciliation among all Virginians.”

The legislation established that the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, created in 1992, complete a record of documented lynching’s in the Commonwealth and develop programming to bring awareness and recognition of the history, “that such awareness might contribute to the process of healing and reconciliation in Virginia’s still-wounded communities and for families and descendants affected by lynching’s.”

The effort began in 2018, when the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission formed the History of Lynching in Virginia Work Group, “to shed light on the long and painful history of lynching in the Commonwealth of Virginia by compiling and documenting the names and stories of victims of lynching in Virginia, creating programmatic outreach that will bring awareness of this history to communities across the Commonwealth, and assisting communities in their efforts to memorialize victims of lynching.”

The work group, led by the Commission’s chair, Virginia Senator Jennifer McClellan, brought together legislative members, educators, historians, and community leaders, propelling through the General Assembly the legislation for healing and reconciliation. The legislation drew on the work of the Equal Justice Initiative.

As part of this effort, James Madison University initiated a research project to catalog and document every known lynching in Virginia between 1877 and 1927. To that end, the university shared the information online and invited comments and contributions. This is a work in progress, with the intention of expanding the historic record with additional research. Given the collaborative nature of this work, other states should take notice. Kudos to Virginia for this important work.

 

 

 

Posted in Virginia | Tagged ,

Death threats over liquor snitching?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know the outcome of this 1924 case, but the article of December 6th of that year alone was stunning. When we look back at the history of lynching as reported (usually erroneously and certainly one-sidedly), the stories were usually of alleged murder or sexual assault. In this case, the reasons for the threats of lynching are less clear, but certainly not for the two usually cited alleged offenses. So, it’s a bit chilling that white anger could rise to the same level regardless of the perceived offense. I write about both Salisbury and Snow Hill history, so this one left me sadly shaking my head.

 

Linda Duyer

Posted in Maryland, People

A James, Dorman, Marshall, and Ballard Family History

Congratulations to Norma James-McCandless for publishing her family history. I was proud being invited to her family reunion not long ago when she described the family history while the book was still a work in progress. She and family members were creating something special, and I know it took an immense amount of time and effort. I was there to describe the history of the murder of George Armwood, and she described how a James was Armwood’s undertaker. The James part of the story mesmerized me.

Kudos to Norma for completing this important work. Anyone interested in obtaining a copy can order it online at Lulu.com.

 

Linda Duyer

Posted in Maryland, People, Virginia