Local Black History

Growing up in Montgomery County, I was taught that slavery occurred somewhere South of me, the Union Army was made up of soldiers from somewhere North of me, and Maryland was this quasi-middle ground where nothing in particular happened.  Our only connection to this era, I came to conclude, was close proximity to the statue of Abraham Lincoln in downtown DC.

I have since learned differently.  In fact, slavery was prevalent in Montgomery County; I have friends who are their descendants and still live in the area.  Most major civil war battles were fought within a 75-mile radius of Germantown; Gettysburg is a stone’s throw from the MD border and Manassas and Fredericksburg are just on the other side of DC.   And maybe most significantly, its ‘inbetween-ness’ meant Maryland’s residents were caught in a splattering of divided loyalties that pitted brother against sister, neighbor against neighbor, and town against town.

Neither was Maryland spared the most terrifying era after the Civil War.  “In 2017, the Equal Justice Initiative published research documenting more than 4,000 racial terror lynchings in America between 1877 and 1950.[1] Based on fanatical fears regarding interracial sex and the desire to maintain white supremacy through an unquestioned racial hierarchy, lynchings during the post-Reconstruction era (1877 onward) in former slave states like Maryland became particularly targeted to terrorize the Black population, often carried out over any infraction, real or imagined.”

As a resident of this county, I wanted to know the specifics about the three lynchings that happened here.  Montgomery History has summarized them well:

“George Washington Peck was the first recorded of the three known men who were lynched in Montgomery County, Maryland in the 19th century. Born into slavery, Peck lived in the Poolesville/Beallsville area his entire life, which was about 22 years. In January of 1880, he was accused of attempted assault on a white girl and arrested by the constable. Before he could be transported to Rockville for a trial, a crowd of local men seized him in the night and hanged him from a tree in downtown Poolesville until he died.

“The second lynching in Montgomery County, Maryland, took place less than six months after the first. John Dorsey, also known as John Diggs, a Black man in his early twenties, was living and working in Darnestown, as servant to a middle-aged couple: James and Linnie Tschiffely. On the morning of July 25, 1880, while James was out of town, Linnie Tschiffely appeared at a neighbor’s house badly beaten, and accused John Diggs-Dorsey of raping her and physically assaulting her the night before. After a two-day manhunt that spread out into Maryland and into Washington, D.C., Diggs-Dorsey was apprehended on July 26 while walking along a public road and brought to the County jail in Rockville. Several hours later, in the early morning hours of July 27, the jail was forced by a lynch mob. Diggs-Dorsey was removed from his cell, marched in leg-irons to a place one mile outside town on Route 28 and hanged from the limb of a tree until dead. The local jury of inquest as well as the grand jury convened four months later both returned a verdict of death by “violence committed by parties unknown.”

“The third victim was Sidney Randolph, a native of Georgia in his mid-twenties, was lynched in Rockville, Maryland on July 4, 1896 by an officially-unidentified group of white men from Montgomery County. The full story of Sidney Randolph’s murder was connected to the mystery involving an axe-wielding attack on the Buxton family of Gaithersburg in May of that same year, and the subsequent death of the youngest child, Sadie Buxton. Though professional detectives were brought in from both Washington and Baltimore to investigate the case, local residents of Gaithersburg took it upon themselves to find and/or create circumstantial evidence implicating Sidney Randolph, a stranger to the area who had no motive and consistently maintained his innocence. Removed to the jail in Baltimore to avoid an immediate lynching, Randolph survived repeated interrogations while imprisoned from May 25 until July 4, when a masked mob of white men dragged him from his cell in the Rockville jail, brutally beat him, and hanged him from a tree just outside of town along Route 355. His murderers were never identified or brought to justice for this crime.”

When this ugly chapter of history is ensconced in a national framework, it is easy to distance myself from it as something our government or ‘the people’ are responsible for.  But when it happen in places like Poolesville and Rockville, the legacy is my own and, if I am to take Black History Month seriously, it is incumbent on me to learn it.

If our native-to-this-area African-American neighbors don’t talk about it, it’s not because they’ve forgotten about it.

To see the sources for the excerpts in this blog and for more on the Montgomery County lynchings, go to https://montgomeryhistory.org/lynchings-in-montgomery-county/

For more of Norm’s blogs on Black History, go to

https://germantowngc.org/why-a-new-holiday/

https://germantowngc.org/the-big-fix/

For more on local MoCo Black History, look for upcoming blogs this month!

Comment(1)

  1. Rigo says

    Very insightful dear Norm. Thanks for sharing this!

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