SALISBURY – Salisbury Mayor Jake Day announced this week that the city will establish a Lynching Memorial Task Force to facilitate the creation of a permanent monument for three lynching victims in Wicomico County.
In a press release issued Monday, Day announced he was accepting a recommendation from the city’s Human Rights Advisory Committee to establish a task force that will help to create a permanent monument honoring three citizens who were killed in racist lynchings in Salisbury.
Three separate lynchings occurred in the city over the course of 30 years, according to the press release. In 1898, Garfield King, an African American accused of shooting a white man, was killed when a mob broke into the county jail and pulled him into the street where he was kicked, beaten, clubbed and hanged.
His body was then shot more than 50 times. At the time, Garfield claimed self-defense in the case.
In 1931, a similar situation unfolded as a mob forced its way into Peninsula General Hospital and pulled 23-year-old Matthew Williams out of his hospital bed. Williams, who had been accused of killing his employer, was lowered from a second-story window into the arms of the waiting mob below.
He was dragged to the lawn of the courthouse, where he was beaten and hanged. The mob then dragged his body behind an automobile through black neighborhoods in Salisbury and then burned his body.
The next day, the burned body of a young black man was discovered in Salisbury. His death was presumed to have also come at the hands of the murderous mob. The man was never identified.
“The events which led to the deaths of these men represent the darkest, most despicable acts of which we are capable,” Day said. “It’s not enough to tell the world that we’re better than these acts, and then just try to move past them. What we have to understand is that the scars left upon a community by coordinated acts of mob violence don’t heal overnight. They don’t heal over decades. They can only begin to heal when we acknowledge and address the reprehensible acts themselves. And, most importantly, the three men who died deserve basic human dignity. They were denied that. By erecting this monument, we are doing what we can to try to give it back.”
Day’s announcement comes more than two years after residents called for officials to remove a historical marker of Confederate Gen. John Henry Winder from the courthouse lawn in Salisbury.
Winder, who was born in the area, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. He left the U.S. Army to serve the Confederacy during the Civil War. Prior to his death, he was in charge of Confederate prison camps.
The marker of Winder was originally placed along Route 13, but was later moved to its current location on the courthouse lawn in Salisbury after it was involved in a number of motor vehicle accidents.
Those supporting the marker’s removal said the plaque is a symbol of division and white supremacy, while those opposing the marker’s removal said the sign serves as a reminder of the nation’s history.
The marker is currently placed near the location where Williams was lynched in 1931.
The proposed memorial will be funded by the Equal Justice Initiative and installed and maintained by the City of Salisbury, the press release says. Individuals wishing to serve on the task force can apply online at www.salisbury.md/task-force.