Maryland Lynch Mobs: 1930-40
Maryland has a long bloody history of lynching and attempted lynching of African Americans. The last major wave occurred during the 1930s at a time when public interracial efforts to overturn Jim Crow were just beginning in the state.

The lynch mob killings and legal lynching executions served to send notice to African Americans and any potential white allies that any attempt to challenge the Jim Crow system would be met with violence that was tolerated and encouraged by authorities.

In two instances where the lynch mob failed, the state carried out the executions of those charged with crimes. At that time there was little consideration given to the racially charged atmosphere that attempted lynchings created and that Maryland counties systematically excluded African Americans from both jury and judge. Whether those charged were guilty of the crimes, the death sentence given were due in large part to the victims being white.

Today the murders and legal executions based on the racial caste system are occasionally written about and quickly forgotten. There are no historical markers to remember those who gave their lives and finding the places of their attacks and ways to honor the victims requires research and patience.

This is not surprising in a state where the official song sympathizes with the South, glorifies the attacks on federal troops in Baltimore just prior to the beginning of the Civil War and calls Abraham Lincoln a despot.

The same Maryland honors Roger B. Taney with a large statue outside its state house while other likenesses stand in Baltimore and Frederick. Taney was the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice who was architect of the Dred Scott decision that held African Americans—whether freedmen or slaves--could not be American citizens.

A major highway bridge between Maryland and Virginia on I-95 is named for Woodrow Wilson who introduced reintroduced Jim Crow into the federal government and fired hundreds of black workers after he was elected President in 1912.

The list of offensive glorifications of white supremacy by the state of Maryland is too long to list here, as are the crimes committed against African Americans. What follows are brief descriptions of some of the murders and legal lynchings during the last major wave that occurred in the state in the early 1930s:

Matthew Williams, lynched at the Salisbury, Maryland courthouse December 4, 1931

On Dec. 4, 1931, a white mob yelling, “Let’s lynch him,” dragged Matthew Williams, a 23-year-old black man, from a bed in the “Negro Ward” of a hospital in Salisbury, Md.

Williams, who had been shot in the shoulder and leg after he was accused of killing his white employer, lay wrapped in a straitjacket.

The mob was met with little resistance from the hospital’s superintendent.

“If you must take him, do it quietly,” the superintendent of the Peninsula General Hospital told them, according to the Archives of Maryland Biographical Series.

“The men threw the bandaged Williams out of a window down to the crowd of approximately 300 people anxiously waiting below,” according to the biography. Williams was stabbed with an ice pick and then dragged three blocks behind a truck to the lawn of the courthouse in downtown Salisbury.

“At 8 p.m., the crowd strung up a noose and found a branch twenty feet above the ground, tied the unconscious Williams’ neck,” the report said.

Williams dangled as the crowd raised and lowered his body, several times, taunting him. Then, they finally dropped him.

“The mob allowed Williams to hang lifeless for twenty minutes,” according to archive records.

After they were sure he was dead, they cut his body from the rope, tied it to the back of a vehicle and dragged him through the black part of Salisbury.

“They then got about 40 or 50 gallons of gasoline, but before they threw this gas over him, they cut off his fingers and toes, threw them on the porches and in the yards of the colored people’s homes, shouting, these remarks, that (the colored people) could make N—er sandwiches out of them,” according to an eyewitness account published by the Crusader News Agency. “Then they threw the gas over him, set a match to him and while the human torch burned, they passed booze around, drinking and shouting.

--Excerpt from History of lynchings on Maryland’s Eastern Shore by DeNeen L Brown, published in the Washington Post

George Armwood, lynched at the Princess Anne, Maryland jail and courthouse October 18, 1933

Mary Denston, the elderly wife of a Somerset County farmer, was returning to her home in Princess Anne on the morning of October 17, 1933 when she was attacked by an assailant.

A manhunt quickly began for the alleged perpetrator, 22-year-old African-American George Armwood. He was soon arrested and charged with felonious assault.

By 5:00 pm, an angry mob of local white residents had gathered outside the Salisbury jail where the suspect had been taken. In order to protect Armwood from the increasingly hostile crowd, state police transferred him to Baltimore. But just as quickly he was returned to Somerset county.

After assuring Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie that Armwood’s safety would be guaranteed, Somerset county officials transferred Armwood to the jail house in Princess Anne, with tragic consequences.

Sources are conflicting regarding many of the details of the assault on Denston and the subsequent murder of George Armwood, but what is certain is that on the evening of October 18 a mob of a thousand or more people stormed into the Princess Anne jail house and hauled Armwood from his cell down to the street below.

Before he was hung from a tree some distance away, Armwood was dragged through the streets, beaten, stabbed, and had one ear hacked off. Armwood’s lifeless body was then paraded through the town, finally ending up near the town’s courthouse, where the mob doused the corpse with gasoline and set it on fire.

--Excerpt from An American Tragedy, by the Maryland Historical Society Library.

Euel Lee [Orphan Jones], executed by Maryland October 28, 1933 - attempted lynching in Snow Hill, Maryland

Euel Lee, also known as Orphan Jones, was an African American accused of murdering a white family of four for refusing to pay his full wages. The case took place in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, still heavily influenced by Jim Crow Laws with institutionalized discrimination.

Several mobs gathered in an attempt to lynch Lee, but each time his attorney, Bernard Ades, foiled the mob petitioning to move Lee. On one occasion, the mob attacked Ades and a female companion outside the courthouse in Snow Hill, Maryland when they found Lee had been moved.

The tactics that attorney Bernard Ades used to ensure a fair trial brought him infamy in Maryland.

Though Ades won his client a change of venue, two new trials and the right to have African Americans on jury panels, Ades lost the trial and Lee was soon after executed by hanging on October 28, 1933. However, his defense of Lee set precedents that would be used throughout the civil rights movement.

Ades’ challenge of Maryland’s systematic exclusion of African Americans from juries set a precedent in the state of Maryland before the Scottsboro case addressed the issue on a national scale.

A fight ensued over Lee’s body where Ades demanded the right to bury Euel Lee in New York as he was granted the right to his client's body in Lee's last will and testament. Fearing riots and further racial unrest, Ades was denied the right to bury the body in New York and is currently interred in an unmarked grave in Brooklyn, Maryland.

Charges of unprofessional conduct were lodged in Maryland and before the US Bar for his handling of the case, and the ensuing social unrest that the coverage of the case caused.

Ades was defended by Charles Hamilton Houston of Howard University Law School and by “Young Thurgood” Marshall of the NAACP. This also set a precedent as the first case of a white man being defended in a Maryland court by an African American.

The Maryland Bar publicly reprimanded Ades for his conduct while also praising his defense of Lee: "It does not seem to the court that the extreme punishment of disbarment should be inflicted. Much that is blameworthy in the respondent's conduct carries its own antidote, for no one can succeed at the bar who comports himself as he has done. Taking into consideration the unquestioned service rendered in the Lee case, the injuries which the respondent suffered at the hands of lawless men while acting as counsel in that case, and the fact that he has already suffered a suspension from the bar of this court for approximately five months, it is believed that a public reprimand will suffice. This will be the judgment of the court."

Ades also set the precedent that organizations could provide counsel to individuals thus setting up the later defense for the NAACP in the school desegregation cases of the 1960s.

--This description contains partial excerpts from Wikipedia.

Page Jupiter, executed by the state of Maryland February 2, 1934, attempted lynching in LaPlata, Maryland.

Page Jupiter was charged with the July 8, 1933 axe murder of a white Charles County, Maryland woman named Evelyn Reifschneider.

On July 11, 1933 a lynch mob formed outside the LaPlata jail where Jupiter had been held. They stormed the jail only to find that Jupiter was no longer in the facility.

Believing that Jupiter had been spirited to the nearby courthouse, they then stormed the courthouse. After finding that Jupiter was not in the courthouse either, the mob attempted to find where he had been taken, but ultimately dispersed.

Jupiter was later taken to a Baltimore jail that was believed more secure.

Bernard Ades, the attorney in the Euel Lee case, attempted to intervene in the case but was rebuffed.

Jupiter was found guilty by a LaPlata jury November 23, 1933 and sentenced to death.

On February 2 1934, Jupiter was taken to the gallows at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore. He fainted on his way to the gallows, but officials put the rope around the neck of his unconscious body and hanged him.

--This summary is compiled from press accounts
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