SILVER SPRING, Md.– Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission into law last Thursday, establishing a body to investigate the dozens of lynchings in Maryland that took place from 1854 to 1933.
The bill grants the Commission the ability to hold regional public hearings in each area where there is documentation of a lynching of an African American by a white mob, research racially motivated lynchings and report to the General Assembly.
“In Maryland we have had 40-something lynchings that we have never really truly looked into or documented,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-21), who introduced the bill.
Peña-Melnyk says the commission is crucial, “given what’s happening in the United States presently, with our current president and the division, the divisiveness and the racism. We have found nooses at some of the schools [in Maryland], which shows the racism has really risen.”
Peña-Melnyk is referring to the four nooses recently found in Crofton Middle School, Chesapeake Bay Middle School, Stephen Decatur High School and Chesapeake High School, two of which are in her district.
The bill passed unanimously in both the Maryland House and Senate, receiving overwhelming support.
Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-41), a co-sponsor of HB 307, introduced a similar bill in 2016 to create a Commission on the Solemn Remembrance of the Victims of Lynching in 2016. Rosenberg withdrew it from the House after an unfavorable report from the Health and Government Operations Committee.
Peña-Melnyk said this, along with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project and Bowie University, were major sources of inspiration for her bill.
“The passage of HB 307 would offer Marylanders the opportunity to reflect soberly on their lives, as well as the narratives that informed both the violence that claimed them and the silence that followed their murders,” wrote Bryan Stevenson, the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, in a letter of support.
“It’s important to teach people, especially the next generation, what happened in the past, and why,” said Peña-Melnyk. “And hopefully teach [them] how not to repeat that.”