July 13, 2020

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1887 Lynching Victim to Be Memorialized With Historic Marker

Historic Marker

St. Mary’s County is once again partnering with the Big Conversation Partnership on Dismantling Racism in Southern Maryland and the Equal Justice Initiative on the Community Remembrance Project about Benjamin Hance, the only recorded lynching victim in St. Mary’s County in 1887. In November 2019, a soil collection ceremony was held at the location where Hance was said to have died at the hands of a local mob.

Mr. Hance, a young African-American, was arrested May 27, 1887, in Leonardtown and taken to the Old Jail. A mob broke in on the night of June 17, held the jailkeeper at gunpoint, and removed Mr. Hance from his cell. They carried him to a site just out of town (now occupied by the Port of Leonardtown Winery) and proceeded to hang him from a witch hazel tree. This was the only documented lynching in St. Mary’s County.

The Equal Justice Initiative believes that the community remembrance projects like the soil collection ceremony are more than opportunities to erect just another historical marker. Rather, their hope is that the process emphasizes the responsibility of collective remembrance and will serve to facilitate conversations and interactions that will help to heal deep-seeded and long-standing wounds within families and communities.

Following the ceremony in November, the partner groups sent one jar of soil to the National Memorial for Peace & Justice in Montgomery, AL. A second jar will go on display in the spring, along with a traveling exhibit, at local community gathering places and organizations around St. Mary’s County to educate local citizens, visitors, and students about a little-known, and little talked about, period in local history.

The next step in the remembrance of Mr. Hance is to establish a historic marker about his story, which will be erected on the grounds of the Old Jail in Leonardtown, where he spent his final days. The Equal Justice Initiative produce the marker, which will subsequently be erected and unveiled to the public at a commemoration ceremony. The marker will be two-sided and traditional silver with black letters. One side will tell Mr. Hance’s story, and on the other will be a statement about racial justice.

Working with the partnership is Stephen Masson, an intern from George Washington University, who has been involved with the project since the beginning.

Karen Stone, manager of the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, explained the importance of the day.

“Mr. Hance’s story was not an easy one to hear. But we do these things to remember, to respect and to remember a man who should not have lost his life in the way he did. Mr. Hance deserved justice; he deserved a trial; he deserved what he never got,” she said. “By bringing light to this hard story to hear, we honor Mr. Hance and all those who suffered similar fates with hope for a better future.”

For more information regarding the progress of the project, click here. Ms. Stone can be reached at 301-769-3235.

For more information about the Equal Justice Initiative, visit its website.

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