One Delmarva: "Never Again" Fuels Salisbury's Lynching Memorial

Each week a member of the WBOC and WRDE news teams will dig into an aspect of race relations or diversity on Delmarva. These stories will highlight challenges, provide inspiration and hopefully, spark conversation here on the peninsula.  

SALISBURY, Md.- Salisbury officials and neighbors are working to ensure that even the darkest moments of the city's past are never forgotten, but instead serve as a constant reminder. A reminder that hate has no place here on the Eastern Shore.

Today, the noose is a symbol of death, hate, and terror.  However, it was not long ago that it was a tool designed to kill and threaten entire communities of African Americans.  The Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, conducted years of research to uncover more than 4,300 lynchings that took place between 1877 and 1950 across the United States, including here on Delmarva. Civil rights attorney and Delmarva native, Bryan Stevenson, founded EJI.

"I think we have just been too silent about our history of racial inequality in this country," Stevenson said. "It's not just in the Deep South, it's on the Eastern Shore, it's in the North, it's in the West.  We haven't talked about the burden created by our history of inequality."

It is a conversation that has begun in the city of Salisbury. It was earlier this year that the Salisbury Lynching Memorial Task Force was established.  And there is a history of lynching in the Crossroads of Delmarva.  Garfield King was the first man lynched in the city back in 1898.  In 1931, Matthew Williams was accused of killing his employer.  Williams was pulled from his hospital bed and hanged outside of the courthouse in downtown Salisbury.  The following day, an African American man's body was found burned, believed to be the second victim of the mob that hanged Williams.

Salisbury leaders, like City Administrator Julia Glanz, say the task force was designed to ensure those names are never forgotten.

"They shouldn't be forgotten.  They were murdered. Nothing was done because of it.  Government leaders didn't act.  It's atrocious that this is part of our history and we haven't talked about it," said Glanz.

"When they were taken in the ways they were taken, they became something more.  They became a symbol of what the lowest example of human behavior can be," said James Yamakawa, a member of the Salisbury Lynching Memorial Task Force.

Yamakawa has worked with EJI in the past.  He helped spearhead an effort to collect soil from the lynching locations in both Wicomico and Somerset counties.  Those soil samples are on display at the Chipman Cultural Center in Salisbury and in the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, which was opened by EJI just a few years ago.  Now, Yamakawa and the task force are working with EJI again, this time to honor the lives lost to lynching in Salisbury with a historical marker through EJI's Community Remembrance Project.

"It essentially tells the story of what happened to these three men," Yamakawa said.  "On the one side, the community crafts the message behind it, saying their names."

The other side of the marker has the national narrative about the lynchings that took place across the country.  EJI pays for the markers to be made and provides them to communities across the country.

"I do think if we are willing to tell the truth about this history, on the other side of that, something reparational, some redemptive that feels like reconciliation becomes possible," Stevenson said.  "I think there's something better waiting for us in this country.  We haven't seen the best of what can happen on the Eastern Shore when it comes to overcoming that legacy of racial inequality."

"If we don't want history to repeat itself, we have to make the notion point blank and clear that we don't want any type of hate anywhere," said Amber Green, another member of Salisbury's Lynching Memorial Task Force.

Green, along with Yamakawa, believe the new marker belongs in a place people will see it, a place where local history took place, which is by the old courthouse in downtown Salisbury. That general location is also where another historical marker was recently taken down.  One of Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver's last acts before he passed away from cancer in July was that of taking down the marker for Confederate General John Winder.  There were some who disagreed with the move, saying it was erasing history. But Green said the problem with the sign went beyond just the history of the man it represented.

"That sign was there and placed in that specific place to evoke fear.  To send a message and that message was negative, that message was mean, that message was hateful," Green said.  "And so, the difference to this sign, this sign is bringing people together, this sign in bringing a community back to healing.  This sign is saying we don't want to hate, we want to just love.  We want to love everyone."

The hope now is that names like Williams and King help people in the Salisbury community commit themselves to saying "never again."  Never again will these acts of violence take place of the bigotry of that time make a resurgence.  The process of healing starts with a historical marker, and a conversation about our local history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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