Shameful Past: Lynchings on Delmarva- Garfield King Lynched in S - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Shameful Past: Lynchings on Delmarva- Garfield King Lynched in Salisbury in 1898

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Old Salisbury Jail courtesy of Linda Duyer Old Salisbury Jail courtesy of Linda Duyer

February is Black History Month and throughout the month WBOC is sharing the stories of 10 men who were lynched on the Eastern Shore of Maryland during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

In our multi-part series: Shameful Past: Lynchings on Delmarva, what follows is a profile of one of those men executed by mob justice. 

Garfield King was an 18-year-old African American man from the Trappe District of Wicomico County. He was accused of shooting and killing a 22-year-old white man named Herman Kenny on Saturday, May 21, 1898. 

According to the Maryland State Archives and local historians, Kenney and King were arguing outside of the Twigg's Store in Trappe, and Kenney told King to get out of his way and "pushed him aside." 

King retaliated and drew a revolver, killing Kenney who was taken to what was then Peninsula General Hospital. Kenney told police King was the one who shot him, before dying on Tuesday, May 24. 

King claimed self-defense, but it wasn't well received by police or the white community. By Wednesday, after Kenney's death, a lynch mob began forming outside the Salisbury jail. 

Old Salisbury Jail courtesy of Linda Duyer

 

"A mob of men came to the jail and demanded that Sheriff Dashiell release him to the mob. The sheriff refused, so the mob literally broke into the jail and took Garfield King," said former Worcester County State's Attorney Joseph Moore.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, Garfield King was one of at least 29 African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in Maryland between 1877 and 1950. Maryland State Archives has that number at 39, and the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project estimates 40. 

EJI goes on to say that, "During this era, it was not uncommon for lynch mobs to seize their victims from jails, prisons, courtrooms, or out of the hands of police," the organization says.

"Though they were armed and charged with protecting the men and women in their custody, police almost never used force to resist white lynch mobs intent on killing black people."

There was some resistance in King's case, news articles report, but none of which saved King's life. 

The Salisbury Advertiser, which published an article a few days after the lynching, recounts the lynching this way.

News Headline From the Salisbury Advisor

"Then the fighting, struggling negro was dragged, kicked, clubbed and beaten to the foot of the stairs, into the jail yard," the paper reads. "He had hardly been strung to the limb when the rope broke and the man fell to the ground." 

Some newspaper articles say King tried to escape, while others say he was hoisted back up swiftly and hanged. Following the hanging, he was shot by the lynch mob more than 50 times, the Salisbury Advertiser says. 

King's clothes were nearly torn from his body, the paper reads. 

Moore says lynchings during this time were "gruesome and vicious."

"The mobs did not consist of vigilantes. The mobs unfortunately consisted of numerous citizens of the town. In all of the lynchings that I'm aware of, no one was ever charged, let alone convicted for participating," Moore said. 

Moore says lynchings like King's deprived African American men of due process during this time, whether they were guilty or innocent--and justice could never be fully realized. 

"Historically, on the shore, because it was a rural area, trials happened very quickly, they were not delayed," he said.

"If these lynching victims had committed a crime, they would have possibly been convicted, whether or not they were guilty. But at least the legal process would have been followed."

Local historians like Linda Duyer agrees, and hopes sharing these stories will forge better race relations rather than dividing us.

Duyer says that in her line of work, when she shares these stories, the response from people is often, "How horrific, or how awful," but then they will add, "But he did it" or "But he was guilty." 

It often comes across as a justification for lynching, according to Duyer.

"There is no justification," Duyer said. "Once you lynch a person, they were denied due process. You can't accuse them of anything."

Moore says understanding this history is the only way we can move forward today. "Everyone needs to know the history of their area. With all of its warts and all. It is what we were." Moore said.

No one was ever convicted in Garfield King's murder. 

 

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