News Release, St. Mary’s County Public Information Office
Official Historic Marker to be Erected at The Old Jail in Leonardtown
Leonardtown, MD – The St. Mary’s County Museum Division 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, the Division and partners held a Soil Collection Ceremony 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 17th, 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 this process emphasizes the tremendous responsibility of collective remembrance and will serve to facilitate conversations and interactions that will help to heal deep-seated and long-standing wounds within families and communities.
Following the Soil Collection Ceremony in November, the partner groups sent one jar of soil to the National Memorial for Peace & Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. A second jar will soon go on display this 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, a 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; 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, explains 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. 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 this project, please visit Facebook.com/DraydenSchoolhouse or contact Ms. Stone at 301-769-3235. 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, please visit museums.stmarysmd.com.