By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, syoes@afro.com

Last October marked 85 years since the last “official” lynching in the state of Maryland.

October 18, 1933, George Armwood, a 23-year old Black laborer cowered beneath a jailhouse bed in Princess Anne, Maryland on the state’s Eastern Shore, as a mob of hundreds gathered to render ultimate justice.

On October 16, 1933, Armwood, allegedly of diminished mental capacity, had been accused of assaulting Mary Dentson, a 71-year-old White woman (to this day it is unclear if Dentson was actually assaulted by anyone).

News of the alleged assault of the elderly Dentson by a young Black man spread through Princess Anne like wildfire and by the afternoon fear Armwood would be killed prematurely forced police to take him to the jail in the nearby town of Salisbury. However, a White mob assembled in Salisbury,which forced law enforcement to transport Armwood to Cecil County and then Baltimore County.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

Ultimately, Armwood was returned to Princess Anne on the morning of October 17, after Gov. Albert Richie was “assured” by state officials the condemned man would be safe.

After several more political and legal machinations, a crowd of about 1,000 Whites–men, women and children–surrounded the jailhouse in Princess Anne where Armwood was imprisoned. The bloodthirsty mob overpowered law enforcement and smashed down the jailhouse door with a battering ram. Men scrambled to the second floor of the jailhouse where Armwood and other Black prisoners were being held. They seized the doomed man from beneath the bed, tied a noose around his neck, dragged him downstairs to the rabid crowd, which began to punch, kick, stab and bludgeon Armwood. One person lopped off one of the man’s ears for a souvenir as the bloodlust of those gathered rose to a fever pitch.

Armwood, was tied to the back of a truck, dragged through the town and hung once. Then his dead body was dragged back to the jailhouse where the corpse was hung from a telephone pole and set ablaze. Then Armwood’s charred remains were dumped in a lumber yard like so much refuse.

Yet, 85 years after the Armwood lynching, on Sept. 15, 2018, 19-year old Anton Black was unlawfully executed in the minds of many, by law enforcement in the Eastern Shore town of Greensboro, Md., as his mother Jennell Black watched in horror.

Black, a former high school track star and aspiring fashion model, was walking with a 12-year-old family friend on a bridge over the Choptank River in the small Caroline County town. Allegedly a White woman saw the two interacting and believed the younger boy was being abducted by Black and called police.

The man who arrived on the scene and confronted Black was dreaded by some Black members of the town. In fact, some of them fought to keep Officer Tom Webster from being hired to be a member of the Greensboro Police Department. Webster had been caught on videotape when he was an officer in nearby Denton, Del., violently kicking a Black man in the head as he kneeled on the ground in submission to law enforcement during an arrest in 2013.

It was Webster who initially approached Black and the family friend when the teen ran away in the direction of his mother’s house. Did Black run because he knew of Webster’s alleged reputation of harassing and assaulting Black people? Moments later the fears of those who lobbied to keep Webster out of Greensboro were realized.

Black made it to his mother’s house and locked himself in a family car. But, police officers including Webster converged on that car, broke the window and dragged Black from the car by the throat in an alleged choke hold. Minutes later the young man was hauled off in an ambulance, but his mother said she knew her son was already dead.

My colleagues, AFRO reporters Stephen Janis and Taya Graham wrote about the deadly plight of Anton Black last week and provide follow up reporting in this week’s paper. But, the duo has reported on ubiquitous racism, discrimination and de facto Jim Crow on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for years. It is clear through their reporting, as well as decades of well-documented history, the specter of George Armwood continues to loom.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was recently re-elected for a second term, a feat not accomplished by a Republican in this state since 1954. Hogan has crafted a national reputation as feverently anti-Trump and a symbol of GOP resistance to Trump’s racism, xenophobia, authoritarianism and general madness.

However, Hogan presides over a state where the historic stench of Jim Crow wafts throughout the counties of the Eastern Shore. And an unofficial, but real hierarchy of racial segregation with Whites in control and Blacks existing as a permanent underclass endures.

Emboldened by a resounding victory, Hogan is implementing a vigorous political agenda.

But, how long will the Maryland Governor appear to turn a blind eye to the tyranny of 21st century Jim Crow in his state?

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore Editor and author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor