LEONARDTOWN, Md. – A historic marker unveiled at the Old Jail Museum in Leonardtown on November 1, was presented on what is noted as Maryland Emancipation Day.
The marker is in remembrance of Benjamin Hance. Hance, a young African-American man, was arrested on May 27, 1887, in Leonardtown and was later taken to the old jail.
One night that June, before he would receive a trial, a mob broke into the jail, and with the jail keeper at gunpoint, they broke into Hance’s cell and carried him just outside of town.
They would hang him from a witch hazel tree soon after.
The members of the mob who carried out the lynching were never convicted nor identified. Hance was one of the 34 lynching victims that Governor Larry Hogan pardoned on May 10, 2021. David Weiskopf, County Attorney for St. Mary’s County, spoke at the event on how these types of posthumous pardons work.
The ceremony for the unveiling was hosted by the St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks Museum Division, in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative. Gabrielle Daniels of The Equal Justice Initiative will speak at the event. The Equal Justice Initiative has placed similar markers at the sites of historical lynchings all across the country as part of their Community Historical Marker Project.
“One of the things that we have to reckon with when we hear Mr. Hance’s story… when we have to ask ourselves, how is he remembered today,” Daniels said at the event. “Maybe at that time, at that moment maybe there was something for him that just felt like this is a terrible situation, but I just need to protect me and mine. But when we remember this story today, what does that experience mean for us… and how do we want to be remembered in our lifetime? What legacy do we want to leave?”
According to Karen Stone, Manager of the St. Mary’s County Museum Division, the marker is a large piece of blue metal with yellow-gold writing and has a map of Maryland on top. It explains the story of Hance on one side and has a message about racial justice on the other side.
Other organizations present at the event included Maryland Lynching Memorial Project President Will Schwartz, several local politicians, the St. Mary’s Ryken High School Music Department and Band, and the Valley Lee Masonic Temple.
Stone also presented three students with scholarships at the event for their works of art and essays relating to Benjamin Hance and social justice. Dr. Tuajuanda Jordan, President of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, was the keynote speaker at the event.
“We are firmly in what I what I call the age of the awakening,” Jordan said. “As I sat at my desk thinking about this period of awakening, I experienced a sense of hope for our future because history shows us from a period of illumination springs forth revolution and change.
Jordan concluded her speech with a few lines from The Color Purple and an optimistic reminder to the community.
“Every voice, every monument, every marker counts. Let us go forth and do.”
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