Posted on March 12, 2024

A Maryland City’s Apology for Lynchings Rings Hollow for Some

Joe Heim, Washington Post, March 11, 2024

This city of 33,000 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore moved one step closer to reckoning with its past as its elected officials last week approved an apology for the long-ago lynchings of three Black men.

In the lynchings by local White mobs in 1898 and 1931, there was no trial, no evidence presented, no judge, no jury. Instead, the public executions were meted out with unchecked viciousness as the men were beaten, hanged, shot, paraded through town and, in one instance, set on fire.

For some Salisbury residents, the lynchings are not worth revisiting. The city has moved on, they say. They point to two Black members on the five-member city council, including its president, D’Shawn Doughty, 29, as a sign of progress. To them, Salisbury is a world away from what it was in 1931.

Others see a city still weighed down by racism, power inequities and a fear of speaking up that they trace back to the Eastern Shore’s history of slavery, rigid Jim Crow laws and racist intimidation. They agree Salisbury has changed. But not enough.


Advocates pushed for a sweeping apology to Salisbury’s Black community and wanted the lynchings to be referred to as “racial terror lynchings” in the resolution. They also called for the city to apologize “for its historical role in targeting the larger Black community of Salisbury during and after these acts of racial terrorism, and for its negligence in not protecting its own citizens.”

Instead, they got what some feel is a watered-down version that doesn’t come to terms with Salisbury’s history of racism and the imprint that has left on its Black residents. The city, concerned about potential legal liability, directed the apology only to the family and descendants of the men who were murdered. It removed language calling on the city to more forcefully acknowledge the long-lasting effects of the lynchings and commit to repairing that damage.

“It’s a boilerplate, vanilla apology that doesn’t really say anything,” said James Yamakawa, head of the Wicomico Truth and Reconciliation Initiative, who began pushing for the action a year ago alongside the Wicomico County NAACP branch. But he sees its adoption as both the culmination of an effort and the beginning of a new one. “It has taken 100 years for the city to start talking about this,” he said, “so it might take a few more until the community has really understood what happened.”


Randy Taylor, 58, who was elected Salisbury’s mayor in November, said his family moved here in the 1960s and he had never heard about the lynchings.

“Obviously, I knew that there had probably been racial incidents because of that period of time. But I didn’t know specifically that there had been actual lynchings,” said Taylor, who endorsed issuing an apology while campaigning.

Three weeks after the election, Taylor, who is White, said in a city council work session that some of the language in the apology proposed by advocates in September would need to be changed. “I think everyone could find some comfort in the spirit of that document that doesn’t have some of the things that I saw and talked [about] with the attorney earlier,” Taylor said. {snip}

In an interview last week, Taylor said the city’s version of the apology accomplished “both goals of offering a ceremonial apology but not recognizing that any of us living or the city was responsible for it.”


Monica Brooks, president of the Wicomico County NAACP branch, called the city’s apology “unsatisfactory.” But, she said, the apology “was never meant to be the end all, be all. It is supposed to be the start of a conversation, a reflection, an auditing of practices for the city to recognize who has been missing, what may be inequitable and then actually do something about it.”

She pointed to ongoing issues with housing, education and city services for Black residents. She also noted a city workforce where Black people are underrepresented. Black residents make up about 40 percent of Salisbury’s population, and White residents make up about 46 percent, according to U.S. census data. Of the 489 people employed by the city of Salisbury, about 80 percent are White and a little less than 15 percent are Black, according to information provided by the city.