A century and a half after he became the first known lynching victim in Prince George’s County, the spirit of Thomas Juricks was summoned into a darkened auditorium Saturday to see how the community had come together to remember his death at the hands of a White mob.
The services Saturday — attended by about 200 people — are part of a growing effort in recent years to remember the victims of lynching in Maryland and across the United States. The practice was most common in the Deep South in the decades after the Civil War but also occurred in Maryland, where at least 42 killings have been documented. The killings were used as a tactic to intimidate and control Black communities after the end of slavery.
The ceremony culminated with attendees filling jars of soil gathered from the former site of a school for Black children that stood across the road from where Juricks was buried in 1869. Some of the jars will be sent to Alabama, where the Equal Justice Initiative maintains a memorial to the thousands of documented lynching victims.
Public commemorations are a chance to celebrate the resilience of Black communities but also to recall ways in which they continue to suffer. Rosado said there is a link between the era of terror that began after the Civil War and the killings of Black people by police today.
“While we are commemorating, remembering racial terror lynchings that happened in the 19th century, we can’t forget the ones that happen in the 21st century and that happened in the 20th century,” Rosado said in an interview. “Our country and community know that these things are done to intimidate people.”
Juricks was the earliest of four known lynching victims in Prince George’s County, and his case and contemporary news accounts show how extrajudicial killings on even the flimsiest pretexts were used to intimidate Black communities. The lynching was covered by White-owned newspapers in often approving tones and while a grand jury was tasked with investigating, no one was ever held accountable.
Researchers have pieced together from news accounts and census records that Juricks was approximately 35 when he died and the married father of six children. He was likely born in Frederick County before moving to the Chapel Hill area in Prince George’s, then a center for the county’s Black residents. He likely worked as a sharecropper, according to an account of his lynching prepared by the Equal Justice Initiative.
Rosado said the memorial project has been unable to trace descendants, often a key step in learning more about victims from long ago through the lore passed down in their families.
“Even though we’ve started this research, there’s so many holes without the memory of descendants,” Rosado said.
Juricks and another Black man were initially taken into custody after a White woman identified in news accounts by the last name Dooly was attacked while on her way to work as a teacher. The two men were held under armed guard overnight, before a scrap of cloth supposedly found at scene of the attack was linked to a makeshift bandage Juricks was wearing, according to the Equal Justice Initiative account.
As Juricks was being transported to Upper Marlboro, he stopped at his home — either to say goodbye to his family or to enable the lynching to be carried out in the heart of the Black community. A White mob gathered, wearing handkerchiefs over their faces, tied up one of Juricks’ guards and forced the other to drive the wagon into some woods.
Juricks was hung from an oak tree before the mob fired a volley of gunshots into his body. He was left hanging for two hours.
“The sight of the grave will, it is thought, be a constant and sufficient warning against the recurrence of a similar incident to that of which it is the end,” one newspaper reported.
Chris Haley, the director of the study of the legacy of slavery at the Maryland State Archives, recounted the story Saturday, acknowledging that it was tough to hear.
“But the truth of it must be faced,” Haley said. “It is a tragedy compounded by the lack of accountability and the shameless justification of his murder.”
After Juricks was buried opposite the school, the following year no children enrolled. But Dora Davis Proctor, the president of the Chapel Hill Citizens’ Association, said Saturday that the community’s spirit was not broken.
“The joy the mob might have experienced the day of the lynching was later overcome by the endurance and the successes of the Chapel Hill community,” Proctor said. “This story could be about any one of our ancestors. Yes, they killed Thomas Juricks, but they did not kill the spirit of the Chapel Hill family.”