- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

SALISBURY, Md. — Matthew Williams was dragged from his hospital bed and lynched outside the former Wicomico Hotel. Two years later, George Armwood was stabbed and hanged before the mob dragged his body to the Somerset County courthouse and set him on fire.

The lynchings, in 1931 and 1933, were the last recorded in Maryland, and it’s unclear whether witnesses to the events are still alive. But those events still affect the region, University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill says in her book, “On The Courthouse Lawn.”

Mrs. Ifill recounts the lynchings of Mr. Williams and Mr. Armwood and suggests that racial violence isn’t just a history lesson — it’s a trust-shattering horror that taints relationships between blacks and whites even today. Many white Eastern Shore natives don’t even know the lynchings occurred, Mrs. Ifill said. But for blacks, they left a legacy of fear and mistrust.

“The wounds of white supremacy,” Mrs. Ifill writes, “still stand open and untreated.”

Mrs. Ifill said she didn’t mean to single out the Eastern Shore. But as she researched nationwide lynchings for a possible book, she found the region an ideal example of how communities, North and South, have failed to come to grips with the legacy of lynching.

“It’s like it never happened,” said Mary Ashanti, president of the Wicomico County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who said there is no marker to show where Mr. Williams was lynched.

Even people with relatives who witnessed it say the lynching was a taboo topic of conversation.

“We didn’t really talk about it,” said Salisbury City Council member Shanie Shields, whose now-deceased grandfather, James Stanley Pinkett, worked at the Wicomico Hotel and was one of the few black witnesses to the Williams lynching.

Mr. Pinkett was a bellhop at the hotel and saw the angry mob gather, calling for the death of Mr. Williams, who was accused of killing his employer in a shooting at the man’s business.

Mr. Pinkett “called my grandmother and told her to stay in the house. He said, ‘You keep everyone in the house,’ ” Mrs. Shields said. “He was scared. He didn’t even commit the crime.”

But Mrs. Shields said her grandfather didn’t talk about the lynching. No one of his generation did.

“I think things like that, we should let pass,” said Mr. Pinkett’s niece, 93-year-old Mary Pinkett of Salisbury. “Evil things, I don’t think you should burn ‘em up and keep that stirred.”

Nobody was convicted of the lynchings. Even the local newspapers claimed the guilty parties were unknown characters from out of town.

The public lynchings stymied race relations, even among those who chose not to talk about them, Mrs. Ifill maintains.

There is no marker for the lynching of Mr. Armwood, either.

In Princess Anne, where he was lynched for purportedly assaulting a white woman, white residents and black residents differ in how much they talk about the last lynching in Maryland. Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, a history professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a historically black school in the primarily white town of PriAmong them:

In Princess Anne, said students learn about Mr. Armwood’s lynching.

“A lot of people talk about this at UMES, but are they talking about it in Princess Anne?” asked Mrs. Barrett-Gaines, who said race relations are much-improved within the school, but that hostility between the school and town remained until recent decades.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide