Across the state of Maryland, communities are coming together to uncover the truth about racial terror lynchings and seek redress for the enduring consequences of these crimes. “More than the poll tax, the grandfather clause, and Jim Crow segregation, lynching and the threat of lynching helped regulate and restrict all aspects of black advancement, independence, and citizenship,” writes Sheryllyn Ifill in her book On the Courthouse Lawn.
Between 1877 and 1950, over 4,000 African Americans were lynched across the United States. Lynchings were public acts of racial terrorism designed to instill fear and devastate African American communities. No one was held accountable for these grave human rights violations; instead, many officials turned a blind eye or condoned this violence.
The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed by state legislators and signed into law in 2019. It is mandated to investigate racial terror lynchings in the state, hold public hearings, and make recommendations for addressing this violent legacy. It is the first and only commission of its kind in the nation.
This state-level effort is complemented by county-level commissions and a strong network of volunteers determined to break the silence and complicity around these crimes and prevent their recurrence. As Karen Hughes White, a descendant of Robert Hughes who was lynched in Cumberland, Maryland, put it: "America needs to stand accountable for its children. Period.” As ICTJ has seen in its work around the world, revealing the truth and humanizing and honoring the victims of human rights violations are crucial first steps in this long-term process.