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The Silent Shore

The Lynching of Matthew Williams and the Politics of Racism in the Free State

Charles L. Chavis Jr.

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The definitive account of the lynching of twenty-three-year-old Matthew Williams in Maryland, the subsequent investigation, and the legacy of "modern-day" lynchings.

On December 4, 1931, a mob of white men in Salisbury, Maryland, lynched and set ablaze a twenty-three-year-old Black man named Matthew Williams. His gruesome murder was part of a wave of silent white terrorism in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, which exposed Black laborers to white rage in response to economic anxieties. For nearly a century, the lynching of Matthew Williams has lived in the shadows of the more well…

The definitive account of the lynching of twenty-three-year-old Matthew Williams in Maryland, the subsequent investigation, and the legacy of "modern-day" lynchings.

On December 4, 1931, a mob of white men in Salisbury, Maryland, lynched and set ablaze a twenty-three-year-old Black man named Matthew Williams. His gruesome murder was part of a wave of silent white terrorism in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, which exposed Black laborers to white rage in response to economic anxieties. For nearly a century, the lynching of Matthew Williams has lived in the shadows of the more well-known incidents of racial terror in the deep South, haunting both the Eastern Shore and the state of Maryland as a whole. In The Silent Shore, author Charles L. Chavis Jr. draws on his discovery of previously unreleased investigative documents to meticulously reconstruct the full story of one of the last lynchings in Maryland.

Bringing the painful truth of anti-Black violence to light, Chavis breaks the silence that surrounded Williams's death. Though Maryland lacked the notoriety for racial violence of Alabama or Mississippi, he writes, it nonetheless was the site of at least 40 spectacle lynchings after the abolition of slavery in 1864. Families of lynching victims rarely obtained any form of actual justice, but Williams's death would have a curious afterlife: Maryland's politically ambitious governor Albert C. Ritchie would, in an attempt to position himself as a viable challenger to FDR, become one of the first governors in the United States to investigate the lynching death of a Black person. Ritchie tasked Patsy Johnson, a member of the Pinkerton detective agency and a former prizefighter, with going undercover in Salisbury and infiltrating the mob that murdered Williams. Johnson would eventually befriend a young local who admitted to participating in the lynching and who also named several local law enforcement officers as ringleaders. Despite this, a grand jury, after hearing 124 witness statements, declined to indict the perpetrators. But this denial of justice galvanized Governor Ritchie's Interracial Commission, which would become one of the pioneering forces in the early civil rights movement in Maryland.

Complicating historical narratives associated with the history of lynching in the city of Salisbury, The Silent Shore explores the immediate and lingering effect of Williams's death on the politics of racism in the United States, the Black community in Salisbury, the broader Eastern Shore, the state of Maryland, and the legacy of "modern-day lynchings."

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The Silent Shore

Charles L. Chavis Jr.

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Reviews

Chavis, who has discovered period sources that shed new light on the lynching of Matthew Williams—a Black man who was killed by a mob in Salisbury, Maryland, in 1931—brings the sensibilities of both a scholar and a history detective to bear in scrutinizing the ins and outs of an often complicated story and narrative arc. This book is further enhanced by a number of excellent photographs and other illustrations, as well as some useful charts and maps.

The Silent Shore is excellent and essential reading. By recovering the tragic story of Matthew Williams, Charles L. Chavis Jr. enriches the history of lynching in America. Deeply researched and brimming with important insights, this book locates the 'free state' of Maryland as a critical site of contestation over race, democracy, and citizenship in ways that continue to reverberate in the age of Black Lives Matter.

A poignant and revelatory reflection on lynching, violence, and racism. Seemingly southern in its heritage of slavery and white supremacy, the 'Free State' of Maryland also had a robust tradition of Black activism. In this prodigiously researched and gracefully told story, Charles Chavis reveals the clash of these two traditions while tracing a surprising story of political courage and community resolve in the wake of the gruesome execution of Matthew Williams.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
304
ISBN
9781421442921
Illustration Description
26 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
Introduction
Part I
Chapter 1. Matthew Williams: His Family, His Community, His Humanity
Chapter 2. "The Blood Lust of the Eastern Shore": The Crime, the Kidnapping, and the Spectacle
Chapt

Foreword
Preface
Introduction
Part I
Chapter 1. Matthew Williams: His Family, His Community, His Humanity
Chapter 2. "The Blood Lust of the Eastern Shore": The Crime, the Kidnapping, and the Spectacle
Chapter 3. Governor Albert C. Ritchie Confronts Judge Lynch: The Politics of Anti-Black Racism in the Free State and Beyond
Part II
Chapter 4. From Pugilist to Private Eye: A Former Prizefighter Infiltrates the Mob
Chapter 5. Truth, Lies, and Somewhere in Between: Unmasking the Mob and Breaking the System of Silence
Chapter 6. Maryland's Disgrace: The Denial of Justice
Part III
Chapter 7. A Blot on the Tapestry of the Free State
Chapter 8. Confronting the Legacy of Judge Lynch in the Age of Fracture
Afterword. A Message from a Living Relative, by Tracey "Jeannie" Jones
Acknowledgments
Appendix
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Charles L. Chavis  Jr.
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Charles L. Chavis Jr.

Charles L. Chavis Jr. is the director of the African and African American Studies at George Mason University. He is also an assistant professor of conflict resolution and history and the founding director of the John Mitchell, Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. The national co-chair for the United States Truth...
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