On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century
Sherrilyn A. Ifill. Beacon Press (MA), $25.95 (204pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-0987-1
Taking the eastern shore of Maryland as her starting point, Ifill uses two 1930s lynchings among quaint, close-knit coastal communities to examine the sprawling topic of racial violence in America. As a border state between North and South, Maryland has been home to some of America's most racially progressive elements (Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and the NAACP) as well as the most conservative (the Baltimore Harbor slave market, Spiro Agnew and Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney). Set against this backdrop, Ifill's careful work unpacks the events surrounding these two brutal crimes, pushing past the persistent denial of the communities involved to uncover the facts. Ifill presents the players-judges, policemen, lawyers, business leaders and journalists-and reconstructs the complex relations that tied them together and eventually led key members to engender and sanction the execution of George Armwood and Matthew Williams. Ifill's research is detailed, empathetic and unflinching in recording the legacy of these two victims, but also ultimately hopeful that these generations-old wounds can be healed. Using lessons learned locally and on the international stage, Ifill closes this engaging case study with concrete suggestions for pursuing the process of reconciliation through honest regional and national conversation.
Reviewed on: 01/29/2007