Panels from the Historical Society of Kent County, Bordley Center, 301 High Street, Chestertown. Photo by Stephanie Gosman.

The James Taylor Justice Coalition of Sumner Hall was established in July 2020 as Kent County’s local response to the 2019 Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Act (H.B. 307) signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan in February 2019. The virtual forum is this Saturday from 3:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. The public is invited to join the event via livestream at Sumner Hall’s Facebook page and on ZOOM. For more details, visit Sumner Hall’s website online.

The forum is part of the 2019 legislation’s public policy to empower local communities to engage in meaningful discussion to advance reconciliation and restorative justice through the documentation of racial terrorism and lynching.

The forum will feature Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., the nation’s leading civil rights legal services organization fighting for racial justice and equality. Ifill is the author of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century.

Also joining the program is Savanah Shepard, the 18-year old college freshman and social justice activist who worked with the Equal Justice Initiative and the state of Delaware to create the Delaware Social Justice Remembers Coalition and has worked to establish a remembrance marker program.

“This is to study due process,” and the lack thereof, in racial terror lynchings, explained Sumner Hall President Larry Wilson.

At the forum, Wilson will present an overview of the JTJC mission and plans. The event innaugurates an EJI high school essay contest where the author was asked to reflect on historical events that could be tied to present-day experiences and events. John Queen of the Bayside HOYAS and the Black Union of Kent County will read from Ifill’s book.

The JTJC reports that there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States between 1882 and 1968. The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports there were at least 40 known lynchings in Maryland. James Taylor was one such man who was lynched in 1892 on the public street just steps from the Kent County Courthouse. He was accused of sexually assaulting a young girl and without a trial was lynched by a mob two days later. (See correction and bottom of story) That event in Kent County history was memorialized in Injustice on the Eastern Shore: Race and the Hill Murder Trial by Kevin Hemstock, historian and former editor of the Kent County News. (Arcadia Books 2015). Nine Black men and boys were charged with the murder of Dr. James Heighe Hill. They were tried together before three white judges, who convicted all but one of the defendants. Four were executed by hanging and four died in prison.

Feature Image: The Bordley Center windows are worth a visit. Photo by Stephanie Gosman.

In conjunction with the event, the Historical Society of Kent County has debuted its window exhibits on display at the Bordley Center, 301 High Street, Chestertown.

“The Bordley History Center is pleased to have the James Taylor Justice Coalition as guest curator this month of a window exhibit about the Coalition. Wish we could take credit for this great exhibit, but the credit belongs to the Coalition–we just offered the space and are very gratified when the Coalition accepted,” Barbara Jorgenson, First Vice President, Historical Society of Kent County, explained.

“The Center is operated by the Historical Society of Kent County, which is a proud signatory of the JTCC pledge. The Society is also a partner with Sumner Hall in the annual Legacy Day celebration and other projects, including biographies of Henry Highland Garnet, the fiery anti-slavery orator born in Kent County’s Chesterville, who was the first African American to deliver a sermon in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber.”

The JTJC exhibit was curated with the help of the Chesapeake Heartland Project, a collaboration of Washington College, the Smithsonian Institution, and local community partners.

This is part of a multi-year project.

“We are going to start here in Kent County and document the contributions of African Americans on the Eastern Shore,” Wilson said, adding that the next focus will be on the contribution of African American soldiers and veterans.

The JTJC has partnered with a broad group of local community groups. The JTJC organized in conjunction with the Community Remembrance Project of the Equal Justice Initiative. The James Taylor Coalition of Sumner Hall was established in July 2020 as Kent County’s local response to the 2019 Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Act (H.B. 307) signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan in February 2019. The virtual forum is this Saturday from 3:00 to 4:45 p.m. The public is invited to join the event via livestream at Sumner Hall’s Facebook page and on ZOOM. For more details, visit Sumner Hall online.

The forum is part of the 2019 legislation’s public policy to empower local communities to engage in meaningful discussion to advance reconciliation and restorative justice through the documentation of racial terrorism and lynching.

Correction: When this story first ran it was reported that James Taylor was accused of the murder of Dr. Jermiah Hill. This was incorrect.