Maryland Gov Larry Hogan will posthumously pardon 34 victims of racial lynching in the state who were denied legal due process in the allegations against them between 1854 and 1933, a spokesman for Hogan said Saturday.
Michael Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, said the sweeping pardon is the first of its kind by a governor.
Hogan will sign the order at an event honouring Howard Cooper, a 15-year-old who was dragged from a jailhouse and hanged from a sycamore tree by a mob of white men in 1885 before his attorneys could file an appeal of a rape conviction reached by an all-white jury in minutes.
Earlier this year, the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project and students at Loch Raven Technical Academy petitioned Hogan to issue the pardon for Cooper.
After receiving the request, the Republican governor directed his chief legal counsel to review all of the available documentation of racial lynching in Maryland.
“Justice has not been done with respect to any of these extrajudicial killings, which violated fundamental rights to due process and equal protection of law,” according to a draft clemency document that Hogan is scheduled to sign.
Hogan and other state officials are scheduled to attend a ceremony in Towson, Maryland, next to the former jailhouse where Cooper was held.
A historic marker will be unveiled at the site in a partnership with the Baltimore County Coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, the Equal Justice Initiative and Baltimore County.
The sign says Cooper’s body was left hanging “so angry white residents and local train passengers could see his corpse.”
“Later, pieces of the rope were given away as souvenirs,” the sign says. “Howard’s mother, Henrietta, collected her child’s remains and buried him in an unmarked grave in Ruxton. No one was ever held accountable for her son’s lynching.”
The ceremony is part of a continuing effort by the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, a group of 13 county chapters that is working to document the history of lynching in the state.
In 2019, a marker in Annapolis, the state capital, commemorated the five known Black men who were hanged or fatally shot without trial in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County.
The Equal Justice Initiative has documented more than 6,500 racial lynchings in the country.
Will Schwarz, who is president of the memorial project, described the posthumous pardons as a powerful moment in acknowledging the truth — a critical step toward reconciliation.
He said the history of racial terror lynching in the United States has been ignored for so long that most people don’t know the scale of the problem.
“We have a responsibility to try and dismantle that machine of white supremacy and this is a big piece of it, acknowledging the violation of civil rights and of due process that were a part of these awful lynchings,” Schwarz said.
There have been 40 documented lynching cases in Maryland, Schwarz said.
In some of those cases, the victims were not yet arrested, so they were not part of the legal system and not eligible for the posthumous clemency approved Saturday by Hogan.
Two years ago, state lawmakers created the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is the first of its kind in the nation.
The commission was formed to research lynchings and include its findings in a report.