Thirty-four Black men and boys lynched in Maryland between 1854 and 1933 were granted posthumous pardons by Gov. Larry Hogan on Saturday.
Hogan made the announcement at an event held to memorialize Howard Cooper, a 15-year-old boy who in 1885 was dragged from the Baltimore County Jail and hanged while his criminal case was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Students at the state's Loch Raven Technical Academy and the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project petitioned the governor earlier this year to pardon Cooper, which led Hogan to instruct his staff to search for all of the available accounts of racist lynching in state.
Hogan, a term-limited Republican who is entertaining a run for president in 2024, said that he hopes the action will help to bring a measure of peace to the men's descendants and "in some way help to right these horrific wrongs."
Among the other men pardoned was King Johnson. The governor's office said Johnson was seized by eight men, beaten, and fatally shot after being left unguarded in jail in December 1911. The governor also announced the pardon of a 13-year-old boy named Frederick who was hanged from a tree in September 1861 (his last name is not known).
The Maryland Lynching Memorial Project has identified at least 40 people who were lynched in racial terror incidents in the state, though not all of those people were charged with a state crime and thus eligible to receive a pardon. Saturday's announcement by Gov. Hogan makes Maryland the first and only state to issue a comprehensive set of pardons to the men and boys lynched in the state.
More than 4,000 Black men, women, and children were lynched in acts of racial terror across the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was common for Black Americans to be lynched after being accused or charged with inflated or invented crimes against white people. The extrajudicial killings were used as a tool to inflict terror and enforce racist policies.
According to a report by the Equal Justice Initiative based in part on conversations with lynching survivors, the terror played a major role in the mass migration of millions of Black Americans from the South.
The push to recognize Black Americans killed in racial terror attacks is a new front in the country's ongoing reckoning with racism. Last year, a campaign to get rid of Confederate monuments resulted in at least 168 being removed or renamed last year, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Some of Maryland's Democratic lawmakers have previously criticized the governor's record on contemporary civil rights issues, such as policing.
Last month, the Democratic state legislature overrode Hogan's veto on a number of police reform measures — including a measure that gives civilians a role in Maryland's police disciplinary process.
Hogan announced the pardons in Towson — standing near what was once the jail near where Howard Cooper was lynched. A new historical plaque unveiled at the event detailed what happened afterward.
"Howard's mother, Henrietta, collected her child's remains and buried him in an unmarked grave in Ruxton," it reads. "No one was ever held accountable for her son's lynching."