The newly unveiled Howard Cooper marker. (Courtesy photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Howard Cooper, a 15-year-old boy who was lynched after an alleged “felonious assault” in Baltimore County in 1885, was one of many victims of domestic terrorism that occurred in the state of Maryland in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Acknowledging Maryland’s dark history of racial terror and publicly honoring the memory of dozens of lynching victims, the Baltimore County Coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project (MLMP) partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to hold the Howard Cooper Lynching Memorial ceremony at the old Baltimore County Jail in Towson on May 8.

MLMP and EJI were joined by a number of statewide political figures, including Gov. Larry Hogan, Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, House Speaker Del. Adrienne Jones and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, all of whom expressed the ignominy of Cooper’s lynching when they spoke at the podium.

The hour-and-a-half ceremony was held at the site of Cooper’s lynching. Shortly after midnight on July 13, 1885, Cooper was dragged from a jail cell by a racist White mob of about 75 masked men to a nearby sycamore tree where he was hanged. 

The incident was one of at least 40 racial terror lynchings in Maryland between 1854 and 1933, according to MLMP. The EJI has documented that at least 6,500 Black Americans were lynched in the U.S. between 1865 and 1950.

Racial terror lynchings were common primarily in the South during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, but Black residents of the Mid-Atlantic region often suffered the bitter realities of White supremacy to the same degree, just as Cooper did. 

“A child was lynched right here. Why would we ever want to forget that? Well we’re here today to make sure no one does forget it,” MLMP President Will Schwarz said.

“Howard Cooper’s story, and thousands like it, history of terror, and torture, and death, and unspeakable cruelty. This history that we inflicted on our own people, for centuries it’s been denied or dismissed or swept to the side of the road.”

Schwarz went on to quote Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who once wrote that “the memory of lynching is indeliby engraved on the collective psyche of Blacks.”

Barry Williams of the Baltimore County Coalition of MLMP emceed the program and was joined by fellow members and EJI project manager Elliot Spillers. Maryland is the only state in the country that has a Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Schwarz.

“There was nothing equal, just or lawful about the way Howard Cooper’s life was taken so violently and so senselessly by an angry mob unwilling to give him the due process he was entitled to,” said Hogan, who also granted a pardon for Cooper and another 33 lynching victims in Maryland between 1854 and 1933.

“After a thorough examination of the facts and details found in history, and with much thoughtful consideration, and in the interest of equal justice under law, I have made the decision to grant a posthumous pardon today for Howard Cooper,” Hogan explained.

Governor Larry Hogan granted a posthumous pardon for lynching victim Howard Cooper, on May. 8. (Courtesy Photo)

Following Hogan’s remarks, Olszewski made a special announcement.

“This memorial will serve as a reminder of the work still in front of us to end systemic racism and ensure equity for all of our residents,” he said. 

“This memorial also represents a starting point in our collective journey from truth to reconciliation and healing for our communities. To that end, I’m further excited to announce Baltimore County’s commitment to working with the Baltimore County Coalition toward the establishment of a Baltimore County Truth and Reconciliation Park.”

The upcoming park will be on a small piece of land across the street from where the ceremony was held on Courthouse Court.

Shortly before the conclusion of the memorial ceremony, Del. Jones presented a citation on behalf of the Maryland General Assembly recognizing MLMP’s efforts to “advance the cause of racial reconciliation through documenting the history of racial terror in Maryland.” 

A historical marker detailing Cooper’s lynching was unveiled to culminate the ceremony. In addition, historian and writer Louis Diggs was honored. Diggs, an 89-year-old military veteran who served with the Maryland National Guard during the Korean War, has authored numerous books and publications highlighting the historical legacy of Black people in Baltimore County.

“I feel great primarily because this is the kind of thing like what I’ve been doing, just scratching the surface. But when folk come behind me and scratch a little deeper, that’s when we find out about things like Howard ,” Diggs said.

“Just the idea of this happening, it’s marvelous. Makes me feel good.”

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