Ceremony to take place at Port of Leonardtown Winery Park on November 1
News Release, St. Mary’s County Public Information Office
Leonardtown, MD – On Maryland Emancipation Day, Nov. 1, 2019, the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, the National Memorial for Peace & Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, the Town of Leonardtown, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, Unified Committee on Afro-American Contributions (UCAC), St. Mary’s County NAACP, Community Mediation Center of St. Mary’s County, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church in Leonardtown, Together We Will, the Sierra Club, the 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 others, will host a Soil Collection Ceremony in commemoration of lynching victim Benjamin Hance, at 4 p.m. at Port of Leonardtown Winery Park, where Hance was said to have died in 1887.
The ceremony is one of healing and remembrance for the only documented lynching victim in St. Mary’s County – Benjamin Hance – in 1887. During the ceremony, the soil will be collected from the spot where Hance died and put into 2 specially-made jars. One will travel to Montgomery, Alabama, 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.
In May of 1887, African-American Marylander Benjamin Hance was imprisoned at the St. mary’s County Jail to await trial, after being accused of assaulting a white woman. However, at 2 a.m. on June 17, 1887, a group of white men seized him from his cell and brought him down the road to be lynched in an area that now houses the Port of Leonardtown Winery. He was hanged that morning before he could receive a fair and just trial.
Karen Stone, Manager of the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, indicates that a soil collection ceremony is significant. “It is said soil holds the memories of the things that happened upon it. So, by collecting the soil at the spot where this act happened and placing it in a memorial, we acknowledge and never forget that this did indeed occur.” She continues: “We will then lay a wreath, which will eventually decay into the same soil, to contain happier memories for the future.”
The Equal Justice Initiative, which has been partnering with other organizations to collect similar jars of soil from around the country at other such sites and bringing them to the memorial, says on their website that “more than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.
Millions more fled the South as refugees from racial terrorism, profoundly impacting the entire nation. Until now, there has been no national memorial acknowledging the victims of racial terror lynchings. On a six-acre site atop a rise overlooking Montgomery, Alabama, the national lynching memorial is a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy.”
Speakers and participants at the ceremony include Dr. Kyrone Davis, Scholar-Practitioner of Executive Leadership in Human and Organizational Learning, who will give the keynote speech, St. Mary’s County Commissioner President Randy Guy, Leonardtown Mayor Daniel Burris, St. Mary’s County Sheriff Timothy Cameron, Fr. David Beaubien of St. Aloysius Church, Dr. Janice Walthour from the St. Mary’s County NAACP, Gabrielle Daniels from the Equal Justice Initiative, and students from St. Mary’s Ryken High School’s Black Student Union and other clubs who will recount the Benjamin Hance story and perform a dance and song during the ceremony.
Ms. Stone believes such an event will bring about community awareness to such difficult topics, much of which many residents in the region know nothing about. “It was such an honor to be asked by Dr. Janice Walthour from the St. Mary’s County NAACP to head up this Soil Collection Project. Though it is just one small part of her ‘Building Bridges: Dismantling Racism SOMD’ initiative, this ceremony gives us an opportunity to connect with other statewide and national groups like the Equal Justice Initiative and the Maryland Lynching Project to face and discuss these issues head-on and hopefully bring about some healing after all these years.”
For more information regarding the ceremony, please visit Facebook.com/DraydenSchoolhouse, or for more information about the Equal Justice Initiative, visit https://eji.org.
The St. Mary’s County Museum Division was established by the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County to collect, preserve, research and interpret the historic sites and artifacts which illustrate the natural and cultural histories of St. Mary’s County and the Potomac River. With this as its charter, the Museum Division serves as a resource, liaison and community advocate for all St. Mary’s County public and private cultural assets.
For more information regarding hours of operation, programs, events, admission prices and more, visit the St. Mary’s County Museum Division at Facebook.com/SCIMuseum or Facebook.com/1836Light, or on Twitter at @StClemIsMuseum or @PineyPtLHMuseum, or at museums.stmarysmd.com.