Annapolis, city proud of its history, is urged to recognize violent past

Lynching illustrates earlier racial climate, activist tells Democrats

June 25, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

While his audience was finishing breakfast Friday, Carl O. Snowden was talking about a corpse - a man shot at 100 times by a mob of Annapolitans during a long-ago lynching.

The 1906 kidnapping, shooting and hanging of a black man who was suspected in a rape is a horror story, Snowden said. The white men accused in his death were neither identified nor punished.

It may also embarrass a city that prides itself on local history.

"This is not talked about on any historical tour," Snowden said before his speech last week at the weekly "Almost 7:30 Friday Morning Democratic Breakfast," at Fran O'Brien's on Main Street.

"There's an effort to highlight the glorious past," said Snowden, a longtime civil rights activist and an adviser to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. "But there's an ugly history that's as much a part of the fabric and history of the county as anything else."

The little-known lynching of Henry Davis has yet to spawn speculation about which early 20th-century Annapolis residents might have been involved. This is in contrast to the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jew, outside Atlanta. In Georgia, descendants of the lynchers struggle with publicity that connects their family names to the killing.

"The lynching is most significant because it shows the racial climate near the turn of the century," said Snowden. "There was no outrage. Criticism came from outside [the community]."

Snowden and other advocates are also seeking a posthumous gubernatorial pardon for John Snowden (no relation), the last man to die on the gallows in Anne Arundel County, 13 years after Davis was lynched.

By then, black city residents did protest, although it was brief and they buried Snowden quietly. But doubts grew over the guilt of Snowden, an ice deliveryman convicted in the killing of a white newlywed carrying her first child.

After the execution, someone confessed to the killing and other witnesses changed their testimony.

Snowden asked those at the breakfast for support in his bid to have John Snowden pardoned.

"I thought the topic was on-target," said Dorchester County Orphans' Court Judge George R. Ames Jr.

It had been reported in news accounts that the Davis lynching might have been planned on the campus of St. John's College. According to published reports at the time, St. John's students were not directly involved in the lynching.

St. John's President Chris Nelson said he was investigating whether any part of the lynching took place on campus and said he would work with Snowden on a memorial if that is appropriate.

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