Garfield King (c. 1880-1898)
MSA SC 3520-13747
Lynched in Salisbury, Maryland, May 25, 1898
Garfield King was an African American 18-year-old resident of the Trappe district
of Wicomico County, Maryland, and graduate of the Princess Anne
"Colored" Academy. On Saturday, May 21, 1898, King reportedly shot
Herman Kenney, a 22-year-old white man. Accounts of the cause for the incident vary. However, the shooting was thought to have been
racially motivated, as it occurred outside Twigg's Store after two groups of
white and black youths including Kenney and King were arguing. Kenney
had demanded that King get out of his way and pushed him aside. King
responded by drawing a revolver and shooting Kenney, who was immediately
taken to the hospital where he struggled for his life for the next
seventy-two hours. In the hospital, Kenney testified to the police that it
was King who had shot him, while King claimed that Kenney had hit him first
and that he had shot him in self-defense. Kenney died on Tuesday, May 24.1
By Wednesday, May 25, many men of the town were growing anxious to take the law into their own hands and take revenge on King. Between 12:35 a.m. and 12:50 a.m., 100 to 150 armed men approached the county jail where King was held. An unnamed leader of the mob demanded the keys to the jail from Sheriff Dashiell who refused to hand them over. The men then took a telephone pole to break down the jail door and used an ax to break the lock on King's cell. They dragged King out into the jail yard while kicking, clubbing, and beating him. They hanged him from a tree with a rope, then fired as many as fifty gunshots into his chest at the command of the leader who was described as a “very tall lean fellow."2 The mob then walked away and left the body. King's body was later taken down by Judge Holland who arrived after the lynching had taken place.3
The Baltimore Weekly Sun reported that this was the first lynching in the history of Wicomico County.4 White and black citizens of Salisbury alike condemned the lynching of King and decried the undermining of the rule of law.5 The unnamed author of an editorial in The Salisbury Advertiser printed on May 28 asserted that the lynchers did not realize the seriousness of their offense in dealing a "blow" to civil government, and that the community needed to have more faith that justice would be carried out through the court system and under the rule of law.6 The Sun also indicated that several men from the district where King lived bought guns and munitions to quell a possible massing of negroes they claimed had made threats against whites. The group promised to “quell any disturbance in their district, even to the extent of exterminating the blacks.7 The following Tuesday, May 31, many African American citizens of Salisbury met at the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, where they drafted a resolution condemning the lynching that was published in The Salisbury Advertiser the following Saturday, June 4. The resolution affirmed the principles that a person is innocent until proven guilty and that the right to a trial by jury was a fundamental element of the preservation of peace and order in the community.8 That same night, a committee of five persons including the well-known civil rights lawyer of Baltimore W. Asby Hawkins and former state comptroller and state tax commissioner Robert P. Graham was appointed to petition Governor Lloyd Lowndes to offer a $1,000 reward for the arrest of the lynchers.9
1. "A Murder and Lynching." The Salisbury Advertiser, 28 May 1898.
2. "Wicomico Aroused: People In One Of The Districts Excited Over The Recent Lynching." The Baltimore Sun, 28 May 1898.
3. "A Murder and Lynching." The Salisbury Advertiser, 28 May 1898
5. "Hanged at Salisbury." The Baltimore Weekly Sun, 28 May 1898.
6. "The Lynching of the Negro King." The Salisbury Advertiser, 28 May 1898.
7. "A Murder and Lynching."
8. "Condemnation Resolution." The Salisbury Advertiser, 4 June 1898.
9. GOVERNOR (General File) MSA S1041searched for letters to the governor from Dr. Lyons, W. Ashby Hawkins, R.P. Graham, Solomon T. Huston, and J. F. Gaddis, members of the committee selected to petition the governor for a $1,000 reward to arrest the lynchers of Garfield King. Nothing found.
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