Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thin Black Line

King Johnson
MSA SC 3520-13760
Lynched in Brooklyn, Maryland, December 25, 1911

Biography:

    King Johnson was lynched December 26, 1911 in Brooklyn, Maryland. The 28-year-old African American, originally from St. Mary's County, resided in the Fairfield community of Anne Arundel County. The incident occurred after King Johnson shot and killed Frederick Schwab, a 29-year-old blacksmith who also lived in the Fairfield area. The episode escalated after a verbal confrontation between Johnson and Frederick Schwab's brother, Frank, over a game of pool. Upon leaving the saloon, Johnson was approached by Frederick Schwab. Scwab was upset that Johnson called his brother several vile names during the argument. Johnson reported that he feared Frederick because of previous encounters. When Frederick Schwab struck him, Johnson brandished his pistol and fired several shots at Schwab. The first shot hit Schwab in the chest, killing him instantly. The next two shots were fired at Frank Schwab over his brother's fallen body. Testimony from eyewitnesses however report that they did not see anyone strike Johnson directly.1
    Frank Schwab returned to the saloon where the argument occurred. He called Chief Irwin of the Anne Arundel County Police and King Johnson was later arrested along with a witness, Hubert (Reedbird) Chase, at his home in Fairfield. There was no reported resistance and Johnson claimed self-defense as his only reason for being involved in the incident. Johnson and Chase were both taken to the jail house in Brooklyn. There, it was discussed that the two men should be transported to Annapolis for safekeeping. The lateness of the Coroner's trial, which ruled on the cause of Frederick Schwab's death, caused both men to be held in Brooklyn over night. The December 26, 1911 issue of the Baltimore Sun reported that around 2:00 a.m. that morning, Johnson was forcefully taken from his cell and lynched.2
    A newspaper report noted that eight white men broke into the Brooklyn jail seeking Johnson. For some unknown reason, there were no guards on duty at the time. The men who entered into the jail mistook the witness Hubert Chase for Johnson because of the complexion of his skin. However, Chase pleaded with them that he was not the man they were looking for, and the men found Johnson in another cell. Johnson was beaten over the head with a blunt object and then his body was dragged down the jail house stairwell and out of the building. King Johnson was then dragged almost 200 yards to Second Avenue, a newly built road in the community. There, he was shot four times, killing him. Johnson's body was found around 5:45 a.m. by a young man named George Coulbourne. Johnson had been thrown into an embankment on the side of the road. His body was later viewed by Chief Irwin and Dr. Charles H. Brooke. 3
    The investigation of the lynching did not uncover the persons responsible for the lynching. However, the investigation did provide knowledge of how such injustices were able to take place in Maryland. Poor protection of those accused of crimes and community silence were the two most important elements of the crime being able to take place and go unsolved. The lynchers were able to break into the jail and apprehend Johnson because there were no guards on duty. The only witness, Hubert Chase, was threatened into silence. Chief Irwin and the other officers on duty did admit to leaving the jail earlier than usual on that particular night, claiming they had no cause to be alarmed. Officials criticized the police officers for not providing proper protection to those persons being held in the jail. There were also reports of anonymous letters providing the names of those involved, mostly friends and family of Frederick Schwab. No one in the community would speak up with evidence that supported these accusations. Hubert Chase, the only witness to the lynching, refused to change his plea of ignorance. Chase claimed he was asleep and heard only sounds of what he believed were guards on duty.4 The investigation lasted about two weeks and ended with the Grand Jury ruling that the death of King Johnson was due to lynching by persons unknown.5

Footnotes

1. "Shot After Pool Game."  The Baltimore Sun, 25 December 1911. And "Negro Lynched." The Baltimore Sun, 26 December 1911.

2. "Negro Lynched" The Baltimore Sun. And "Johnson Lynched." The Evening Capital, 26 December 1911.

3."Johnson Lynched" The Evening Capital

4. "Other Negro Held As Witness." The Baltimore Sun, 26 December 1911.

5. "Grand Jury Finishes." The Evening Capital, 13 Janaury 1912.

Link to Lynching Profile Questionnaire
 

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