Maryland is the first state in the country to establish a commission focused solely on investigating its own horrific lynching cases from the past. (Photo by msa.maryland.gov)

By Special Report

In 2019, the Maryland General Assembly enacted, and Governor Larry Hogan signed into law, legislation establishing the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission (MLTRC)  as the first Commission dedicated to investigating racial terror lynchings in the United States.  

Sponsored by Delegate Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk, House Bill 307 tasks the Commission with  researching cases of lynching, holding public hearings in communities where racial terror lynchings took place, and developing recommendations for addressing the legacy of lynching that are rooted in restorative justice. 

The MLTRC’s hearing process will allow members of the public, including the descendants of  victims, witnesses, and perpetrators, the opportunity to offer testimony about how these murders  have impacted their lives and their communities; in addition to allowing them the opportunity to  make recommendations for achieving racial healing. The hearings will also provide an opportunity to identify and bring to light possible cases of racial terror lynchings that are  remembered in families and communities but for which there is little or no documentation. 

The June 4 hearing will focus on the tragic lynching of Howard Cooper, a 15-year-old boy who  was killed on July 13, 1885, in Towson, Md. 

Cooper was convicted of assault and rape sentenced to death by a jury that deliberated for less than a minute. Fearing the verdict might be reversed upon appeal, a mob of masked White men dragged Cooper from his cell in the old Baltimore County Jail in Towson and hung him from a sycamore tree next to the building. Participants may include descendants of Howard Cooper, witnesses, community members, archivists, and scholars of the community. 

The hearings will also explore the involvement of state, county, local government entities, and news media in cases of racially motivated lynching. In 1898, for example, the Maryland General Assembly failed to pass proposed anti-lynching legislation. It is also well documented that county sheriffs and jailers allowed mobs to take men from jail with impunity, county state’s attorneys refused to identify.

The attorney’s also denied to bring charges against members of lynch mobs and county coroners routinely claimed. The victims of lynching died “at the hands of parties unknown,” and newspaper coverage of these events helped to perpetuate a culture that condoned and encouraged racial terror lynchings. 

This is the second public hearing conducted by MLTRC. This event would not be possible  without tireless effort and planning from the Baltimore County Coalition of the Maryland  Lynching Memorial Project to build community partnerships. 
Additional hearings will be announced as they are scheduled and published on MLTRC’s  website.

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