Thirty-four victims of racial lynching in Maryland dating between 1854 and 1933 were granted posthumous pardons by Gov. Larry Hogan on Saturday. Hogan signed the order during an event to memorialize Howard Cooper, a 15-year-old boy who was hanged outside the Towson jailhouse by a White mob in 1885.
“In the interest of equal justice under law, I have made the decision to grant a posthumous pardon today for Howard Cooper,” Hogan said during the outdoor ceremony in Towson. “And studying this case led me to dig deeper,” Hogan continued. “Today I am also granting pardons to all the 34 victims of racial lynchings in the state of Maryland which occurred between 1854 and 1933.”
This is a first-of-its-kind pardon by a governor of a U.S. state, the Associated Press reported. Hogan said the victims were denied legal due process.
Cooper was dragged from the Baltimore County Jail and hanged from a tree by a mob of White men in 1885. This was after an all-White jury had concluded within minutes that he was guilty of raping Katie Gray, a white teenager in Baltimore County. According to The Baltimore Sun, neither Gray nor Cooper testified that Gray was raped. Cooper was sentenced to death by hanging. And even before his attorneys could appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, he was lynched in the early hours of July 13, 1885.
Students at the state’s Loch Raven Technical Academy and the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project had earlier this year petitioned the governor to pardon Cooper. Hogan, a Republican, then asked his staff to search for all of the available accounts of racial lynching in Maryland.
“My hope is that this action will at least in some way help to right these horrific wrongs and perhaps bring a measure of peace to the memories of these individuals and to their descendants and their loved ones,” Hogan said.
The governor on Saturday read the names of Cooper and the 33 others pardoned: David Thomas, Jim Wilson, Isaac Moore, Jim Quinn, Thomas Jurick, John Jones, John Henry Scott, John Simms, Michael Green, James Carroll, George Peck, John Diggs, George Briscoe, Townsend Cook, Charles Whitley, Benjamin Hance, John Biggus, Asbury Green, James Taylor, Isaac Kemp, Stephen Williams, Jacob Henson, James Bowens, Sidney Randolph, William Andrews, Garfield King, Wright Smith, Lewis Harris, Henry Davis, William Burns, King Johnson and George Armwood.
Frederick, a 13-year-old boy, is the final victim. His full name “was lost to history,” the governor said.
Hogan announced the pardons while at the location near where Cooper was lynched. He unveiled a new historical plaque at the event that says that Cooper’s body was left hanging from a sycamore tree “so angry white residents and local train passengers could see his corpse.”
“Howard’s mother, Henrietta, collected her child’s remains and buried him in an unmarked grave in Ruxton,” the plaque reads. “No one was ever held accountable for her son’s lynching.”
In the late 19th century, lynchings were the only latest form of racial terrorism against Black Americans after White plantation owners had used various forms of violence against the enslaved.
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), tension had begun brewing throughout the late 19th century in the U.S., and this was mostly felt in the south, where people blamed their financial woes on the newly freed slaves that lived among them.
Whites resorted to lynching as a form of retaliation towards the freed Blacks. What mostly triggered these lynchings were claims of petty crime, rape, or any alleged sexual contact between black men and white women. Whites started lynching because they felt it was crucial to protect White women.
From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people that were lynched, 3,446 were black. The blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched, according to the NAACP, which was quick to add that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded.
Out of the 4,743 people lynched only 1,297 white people were lynched, that is, 27.3%. These whites were lynched for domestic crimes, helping the black or being against lynching.
“A typical lynching would involve criminal accusations, often dubious, against a black American, an arrest, and the assembly of a “lynch mob” intent on subverting the normal constitutional judicial process,” a report by The Guardian said.
It added that victims were seized and tortured, with many being hung from a tree and set on fire. Some were dismembered and their pieces of flesh and bone were taken by mob members as souvenirs.