Maryland governor posthumously pardons 34 lynching victims

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May 8 (UPI) -- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan posthumously pardoned 34 victims of racial lynchings in the state during a Saturday event.

Hogan made the announcement at an event near the building once used as the Baltimore County Jail in Towson, Md.

The location was chosen to honor of Howard Cooper, a 15-year-old who was dragged by a white mob from the jail and hanged from a sycamore tree amid his case's appeal 136 years ago.

Cooper was among 34 people who were lynched in the state between 1854 and 1933 and who were pardoned by Hogan at the event.

The governor issued a full posthumous pardon on the grounds that the extrajudicial killings violated fundamental rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

Hogan read the names aloud and signed the pardon for the 34 victims, whom also included Frederick, a 13-year-old, whose full name was not known, with everyone pardoned also listed on his office's website.

"The State of Maryland has long been on the forefront of civil rights, dating back to Justice Thurgood Marshall's legal battle to integrate schools and our national reckoning on race," Hogan said. "Today, we are once again leading the way, as together, we continue to work to build a more perfect union."

The pardon stems from the Baltimore County Coalition of Maryland Lynching Memorial Project in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, and Michelle St. Pierre's students at Loch Raven Technical Academy in Towson which requested the governor issue a posthumous pardon for Cooper.

Gov. Hogan directed his chief legal counsel to review all available documentation and newspaper accounts of racial lynchings in Maryland.

Maryland Lynching Memorial Project President Will Schwartz added along with the Baltimore County Coalition, several other coalitions statewide have worked to document the history of lynching.

Schwartz also noted that Cooper was tried for assault, which he admitted, and rape, which he denied he committed. The alleged victim never testified she had been raped, but the rape charge still triggered the death penalty.

Schwartz also pointed out that Saturday's event took place near where a railroad used to run behind the Towson jail that slowed so people on the train could look at Cooper's corpse after he was lynched on July 13, 1885, and his mother, Henrietta, was left to collect her murdered son's remains.

"The fact that everyone knew, that really is the point of a lynching," Schwartz said. "It was a terrorist attack, it was meant to incite fear, it was an explicit threat and a very public message."

"As we take Howard into our hearts today, it's important that we not lose sight of the fact that he was not the only victim of that crime," Schwartz added.

Th crowd at the event was directed to view a historic marker to memorialize Cooper at the site of his lynching, which the Baltimore County Coalition in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative and the Baltimore County government installed.

"We're here today to make sure that no one does forget," Schwartz said before the crowd went to view the marker.

"This story, Howard Cooper's story and thousands like it, this history of terror and torture and death and unspeakable cruelty. This history that we inflicted on our own people for centuries it's been denied or dismissed or swept to the side of the road, and I want people who see this building to think of Henrietta Cooper coming to collect her sons remains that day. We need to remember that, and by we, and I hope no one is offended by this, I mean White people, because I don't think Black people have forgotten."

The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was established in 2019, as "the first of its kind in the United States," the governor's statement noted, and it has been charged with researching cases of racially-motivated lynchings.

Hogan also sent a letter to President Joe Biden Saturday urging him to establish a U.S. Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Commission.

"This is the first time in history any governor has issued a blanket pardon for the victims of racial lynchings," Hogan wrote in the letter. "This would not have been possible without all those who have worked hard over the years to bring to light this painful legacy of racial terror crimes, and I hope that this will in some way right these horrific wrongs and bring a measure of peace to the memories of these Marylanders and their loved ones."

"A national commission would further this important work by examining racial healing through a larger lens," he added.

The Republican governor also committed to working across party lines towards "promoting equity, inclusion, and equal justice for all Americans," in the letter.

Schwartz said there have been 40 documented lynchings statewide, but in some of those cases the victims were no arrested yet, so they were not eligible for the posthumous clemency, Politico reported. Across the country, the Equal Justice Initiative has documented over 6,500 racial lynchings.

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