Maryland panel on lynching begins yearlong study of killings
In this file photo, Shanie Shields stands Tuesday, May 22, 2007, in Salisbury, Md., near the site of the 1931 lynching of Matthew Williams, who was accused of shooting his white employer. Shields' grandfather witnessed the lynching. Two lynchings, in 1931 and 1933, were the last recorded in Maryland. A Maryland commission is now researching at least 40 lynchings in the state. (AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby)
Brian Witte, The Associated Press
Published Monday, August 12, 2019 3:51PM EDT
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A Maryland commission that will research at least 40 lynchings that were committed in the state between 1854 and 1933 and make recommendations about reconciliation held its first meeting on Monday.
The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission meeting was largely organizational, with members choosing an acting chairman and discussing future meetings.
"We have never really looked at it, looked at the facts," said Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a Democrat who sponsored legislation this year to create the panel, which she described as the first statewide commission of its kind in the nation to take up the issue. "This commission is going to hold hearings and regional hearings throughout the state of Maryland where these lynchings took place."
Pena-Melnyk is not serving on the commission, but delivered a welcome to the members.
The measure she sponsored was approved unanimously by the Maryland General Assembly this year.
"The idea is to learn from our history, especially given what's happening in the U.S. right now," she said. "We need to have a frank discussion about racism and about different cultures and respect them."
The commission includes historians from each from the state's historically black colleges: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore. It also includes a state archivist and a staff member for the attorney general's office, who will be able to subpoena witnesses or documents for the panel's work.
Elected as acting chair was David Fakunle, of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.
The panel is scheduled to submit an interim report on findings and recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers by September 2021. A final report is scheduled to be submitted by the following December.
"There are instances where people are recommending, for example, markers" to honour the lives lost, Pena-Melnyk said in an interview before the meeting.
At least 40 African Americans were lynched in the state by white mobs between 1854 and 1933, the law says. It acknowledges that no one was ever charged in connection with any of the crimes and that government entities were often complicit in committing them and concealing the identities of those responsible.