July 11, 2020

Art & Lifestyle:

Stock Ticker

Ceremony Commemorates Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day

A soil collection ceremony was held November 1 in commemoration of lynching victim Benjamin Hance at Port of Leonardtown Winery Park. Mr. Hance was said to have died in 1887 in St. Mary’s County. The Emancipation Day ceremony was one of healing and remembrance for the only documented lynching victim in the county.

During the ceremony, soil was collected from the spot where Hance died and put into two specially made jars. One jar will be sent to Montgomery, AL, and become part of the National Memorial for Peace & Justice, and the other will stay in St. Mary’s County and become part of a traveling display to educate local citizens, visitors, and students.

During the ceremony, where approximately 135 were in attendance, students from St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown recited the poem “Strange Fruit.” This was followed by an original ballet performance by five other students.

A recounting of Benjamin Hance’s story was then done by a group of students accompanied by St. Mary’s County Sheriff Timothy Cameron and Dr. Janice Walthour of the Closing the Gap Coalition. This was the first time Hance’s story had been told since it was reported in the local newspaper in 1887.

Afterward, dignitaries dug up the first bits of soil and the student choir sang a rendition of “On Eagles Wings,” as those present placed handfuls of soil in the two glass jars.

Photo courtesy St. Mary’s County government

Once the jars were filled, two volunteers closed the jars, placed them on the upturned soil, and stood sentinel as the ceremony continued. The final act of the evening was a procession with the wreath back to the place where the soil had been dug. Made of all-natural materials – straw and flowers held with sisal twine – the wreath was left to degrade over time into the soil, changing the present sorrow into hope for the future.

When the ceremony was over, many stayed to talk with each other, further underlining the healing and sense of community that came out of the day’s event.

“Mr. Hance’s story was not an easy one to hear. But we came today to listen, to remember, to respect, and to honor a man who should not have lost his life in the way he did,” said Karen Stone, manager of the St. Mary’s County Museum Division. “Mr. Hance deserved justice. He deserved a trial. He deserved what he never got. By placing the wreath here, we honor Mr. Hance and all those who suffered similar fates, and we change the sorrow of the soil into hope for the future.”

St. Mary’s County held the event in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, National Memorial for Peace & Justice, Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, town of Leonardtown, St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, Unified Committee on Afro-American Contributions, St. Mary’s County NAACP, Community Mediation Center of St. Mary’s County, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church in Leonardtown, Together We Will, Sierra Club, Archdiocese of Washington, St. Mary’s Ryken High School, Maryland Commission on African American History & Culture, Tri-County All-Community Collaborative, Closing the Gap Coalition, All Saints Episcopal Parish, St. Mary’s County Libraries, Concerned Black Women, and other groups.

For more information, go to Facebook.com/DraydenSchool or call Ms. Stone at 301-769-3235. For more information about the Equal Justice Initiative, click here.

To learn more about Lexington Park, visit the St. Mary’s County Community Development Corporation’s Leader member page.

St. Mary’s County Community Development Corporation

46940 South Shangri-La Drive, Suite 7

Lexington Park, MD 20653


Leave A Comment