For Martin Luther King Day, we hear from an artist who makes civil rights heroes leap off the page.
After this summer’s racial reckoning, the nation is still wrestling with how to solve issues of racial inequity and address a complicated past. Our region is not exempt. But one local filmmaker hopes to bring light to an ugly part of our local history in his new documentary.
Jay Mallin’s “The Three (Known) Lynchings of Montgomery County, Maryland” details the lynchings of three Black men that took place in Maryland’s most populous county in the 19th century. Mallin drew inspiration from Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy,” which urged people to look into their own local history and the racism in their neighborhoods.
What can our region learn about our troubled past? How have these men been commemorated? And how are we addressing the lingering effects of these acts of violence?
Produced by Richard Cunningham
- Jay Mallin Local filmmaker and director, "The Three (Known) Lynchings of Montgomery County, Maryland"; @jaymallinphotos
- Michael Williams Teacher and educator; Narrator, "The Three (Known) Lynchings of Montgomery County, Maryland"
SASHA-ANN SIMONSYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo. Welcome. Later on in the hour a majority of Americans feel marijuana should be legal. We look at what changing attitudes mean for the decades long war on drugs. But first, the country is still reeling from the summer's racial injustice protests and the civil unrest that's followed, and the past is part of this racial reckoning. So local film maker Jay Mallin created a documentary on Montgomery County's history of lynching and how it's still reverberates today. So joining us in this segment is Jay Mallin. He's the Local filmmaker and director of "The Three (Known) Lynchings of Montgomery County, Maryland." Hi, Jay. Welcome to the program.
JAY MALLINGood morning. Great to be here, Sasha.
SIMONSAnd Michael Williams is a Teacher and educator and the Narrator of the film. Hi, Michael.
MICHAEL WILLIAMSHey, Sasha. How are you?
SIMONSGood. Thanks for being here. Jay, I want you to start us off. Tell us what this film is all about.
MALLINWell, the basis of the film is the three documented lynchings that were in Montgomery County in the late 1800s. I can give a quick outline of them if you'd like.
MALLINOkay. So it started in 1880 -- January 1880. A guy local to the Poolesville Beallsville area who had been born into slavery was working on a farm. He was about 21 years old and he was accused of assaulting a young white girl. Law enforcement such as it was, came and took him to Poolesville kind of late in the day. And they were going to keep him there overnight. But a mob formed, dragged him across the street into a field across from what's now a historic church and hanged him from a tree across from the church and left him there until services the next morning -- Sunday morning.
MALLINThe next one was about six months later in Darnestown. A couple named Linnie and James Tschiffely had a small farm. And a guy named John Diggs or John Dorsey worked there. He was also early 20s African American. Jim Tschiffely went away on business. Linnie showed up at a neighbor's the next morning claiming she'd been beaten by Dorsey. Posies formed and started searching and a couple days later they found Mr. Dorsey walking to a town called Mechanicsville, tied him up. Took him to the local jail, which was in the county seat, Rockville. There was a mob forming outside that night. There were reporters from local and national press camped outside the jail because they knew what was going to happen.
MALLINBut they waited for Jim Tschiffely to show up to join in the lynching. They dragged him out of the jail. Forced him to march in shackles through downtown Rockville to just outside the town at Route 28 and hung him from a tree there.
SIMONSAnd the third?
MALLINThe third was Sidney Randolph. So there may have been some attempts in the intervening years, but 1896 in May there was a strange attack on a family called the Buxton's in Gaithersburg. And a big hunt where vigilantes went out and arrested African American men. And one of the people they arrested was kind of a random stranger from out of town from the South named Sidney Randolph, who had no connection to the Buxtons and no motivation and probably had never been to Gaithersburg. But he was arrested -- actually eventually a lot of people arrested. He was held for a weeks.
MALLINAnother significant suspect was released and held in the jail most of the time. Sometimes they moved them to Baltimore to prevent this from happening. But July 4th, 1896 a mob came, dragged him out of the jail, threw him in the back of a wagon. Drove kind of circuitously toward Rockville and hung him right next to what we would know as Rockville Pike just outside of Rockville.
SIMONSMichael, I want to bring you into the conversation, because you narrate this documentary. Tell us what drew you to be part of the film.
WILLIAMSYeah, I am from the county, grew up most of my life there, and as a Social Studies teacher I had been teaching it in some of my classes. First started to take a closer dive into the lynchings a couple of years ago and got connected with the Montgomery County Lynching Memorial Project, which is an offshoot of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery County. But when Jay approached me it was kind of like a no brainer, because I'm passionate not only about history, but also being from the county it was a way to really kind of bring issues to light in our particular county of Montgomery County, Maryland.
WILLIAMSAnd kind of have us take part in the reconciliation and really thinking about racial justice and how it's played out in a county that we often perceive as being so progressive. But yet we see it falls directly into a common narrative in the United States. So when Jay came and asked me, I was like, sure. Tell me what to do.
SIMONSYeah. And, Jay, on that same note that Michael brought up many people do think of lynching as something that happened only in the Deep South. Did this story surprise you at all? And more broadly what did you actually learn about the history of lynching in Montgomery County?
MALLINOh, it surprised me a bunch. I mean, I spent most of my adult life in D.C. And there's a confederate statue outside the courthouse here in Montgomery County and I didn't understand why. But I was reading Brian Stephen's book, "Just Mercy" in 2015 and he encouraged readers to look up their local history. And I tried. And there wasn't much out there. It had been forgotten or erased or whatever. So I started -- I enlisted the help of my sister, a librarian and genealogist and we started researching. And, you know, it was hard to believe what was going on and also the reaction to these three cases.
SIMONSAnd, you know, Michael, in this film we are following as Jay pointed out for us, the lynchings of three men in Montgomery County, George Peck, John Diggs and Sidney Randolph back in the late 1800s. I want to hear from you, though, why their stories are important.
WILLIAMSYeah. I think at the most basic level we're seeing and discussing an issue of criminalization of people of African descent, the negative stereotypes and racial perceptions that come in the form of even propaganda. But, you know, on the most personal level, I grew up in a church, Clinton AME Zion, which is in Lincoln Park, which is in one of the historically Black communities in Rockville. These were descendants of slaves. Some of them at this time not even a generation out of slavery. And so it really, really touched me especially that Sidney Randolph murder, because it was right across the street from Lincoln Park.
WILLIAMSAnd as historians like Tony Cohen, one of fabulous local historians mentioned that this was a way to terrorize the community by having it there. You know, the crime wasn't committed there at all. But to march them through various African American communities and have the lynching there for people of African descent to see was an effort to send a clear message about keeping their place in the racialized society. And so it hit home for me, because these are place names that I see, areas that I go to.
WILLIAMSYou know, a lot of folks will say, oh, wow. I got to Montgomery College and drive up Rockville Pike. But I think it really touches the criminalization, negative stereotypes that unfortunately still linger today. And are the cause of a lot of the unarmed victims -- the killings of unarmed African American victims that we've seen across social media for the past decade now.
SIMONSJay, as the film title suggests, these are the stories that we know about. So did you come across any other clues in your research that point to more lynching cases in the county?
MALLINNo. But, you know, it's not well documented, but most frustrating of all is that we know so little about the three victims. It's not until the -- there were lynchings in Maryland until the 1930s. And it's not until then when the Baltimore African American starts writing about them that people paid attention to the lynchings. So what happened here earlier, what happened pre-civil war, I just don't know.
SIMONSYeah. Some people believe that reliving the past really holds society back from the future, Jay. I want to know your thoughts on that. Do you agree? What do you actually say to people who think this way? Why bring this up?
MALLINYou know, Mike talked about reconciliation. But you can't have reconciliation until people know what happened, until they know the history. And, boy, people who've been in Montgomery County for generations have told me that they have heard of this including Anthony Cohen, the historian, he was reading in the archives one day and came across and said, wait. Montgomery County I grew here. I've never heard of this.
SIMONSSo why should we learn about Maryland's past? Sounds like we need to spread it a lot further, of course.
MALLINYeah. Well, you know, Montgomery County as Mike said prides itself on being a progressive county and so on. But in a lot of ways housing, schools, it's often still very segregated. And if you look at this history and trace it through from 1880 you can see that that's not just random or the random out workings of capitalism. It was planned for it to be this way.
SIMONSWe're taking about a new local film exploring 19th century lynchings in Montgomery County. And we'll continue the conversation after a very short break. Stay tuned.
SIMONSWelcome back. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons in for Kojo Nnamdi. We are talking with Jay Mallin. He's a Local filmmaker and director of "The Three (Known) Lynchings of Montgomery County, Maryland." Also with us is Michael Williams. He's a Teacher and educator and the Narrator of that film. And we are talking about how the film honors three lynchings in Montgomery County's past. Let's jump to the phone lines. Rick has been waiting patiently. He's calling us from Germany. Hi, Rick.
RICKHow are you doing, lady? Just outside Munich.
SIMONSNice. Well, what's your comment or question for us this afternoon?
RICKMy comment is I think it's wrong to highlight the pains of the past, the lynchings of the past without also talking about how capitalism works today, how government works today. You know, we've just had five years of an American president and most people don't know that the real power is in Congress. So, you know, you make people angry about the past, about the 1800s and the early 1900s. But, you know, they don't know how the healthcare system works, how the gutting of the healthcare system has worked over the last 40-50 years in America. So I think it's good to educate the children in elementary and junior high school about the past, but you also have to educate them about what's going on today.
SIMONSThank you, Rick.
RICKCapitalism, government and --
SIMONSYeah. Well, let's get Jay to weigh in on that. Thanks, Rick. Appreciate your call. What are your thoughts, Jay?
MALLINYeah, I would agree. That's a different documentary, which other people are working on. But, yeah, it certainly -- it's certainly connected.
SIMONSIt's in the works.
MALLINOh, not by me.
SIMONSWell, no. I know. You're saying in general something highlighting the pain of the past and where it sort of ties to today.
WILLIAMSSasha, can I jump in on that one?
WILLIAMSYeah. So I think, again, at its most basic level these stories are important. If we truly believe in the ideals of our nation about freedom, justice, democracy and equality then we need to pay attention and understand how not only the past works, but its links to the present. And as an educator for me it's essential to make sure that we make those connections. And so Jay asked me in the film to kind of talk about my experience growing up in post-Jim Crow era, not very long after Jim Crow, but post-Jim Crow era. And in Lincoln Park there was all these frustrations that people had.
WILLIAMSAgain, if you look at most of the historically Black communities in Montgomery County, they are the poorest. They are still segregated. There's plenty of poverty. There's frustration. And all of that was coming out that I remember clearly when I was spending time at church that people talking about those frustrations. And so we attempt to try and make that link to let people understand that there was a concerted effort to deny people opportunities and to prevent African Americans from achieving. So we do as much as we can to make that link. But, as Jay says, that is another longer documentary for another time.
SIMONSYeah, for sure. We can definitely talk for a long time about the lasting effects of this kind of racial violence. Jay, we've seen the nation grapple with its past and how it perceives race. I want to know your reaction to the murder of George Floyd in the summer and all the events that followed.
MALLINYou know, if you're working on this stuff you can't help but draw -- you can't help but watch that and see the connection and just see a replay. I mean, I guess the one really positive difference is in the late 1800s in Montgomery County, everybody was okay with this as far as I can tell, pretty much. The paper editorialized in favor of lynching. But what we've seen this year is that everybody is not okay with it any more. And that's certainly been wonderful to see.
SIMONSWell, we've got some messages from listeners. Beth Baker from the Montgomery County Lynching Memorial Project emailed us. She said, "I'm with the Montgomery County Lynching Memorial Project and we were proud to host the premiere of Jay's film and proud to have Jay and Mike as members. If listeners would like to get involved in our efforts to honor the memories of the lynching victims and work towards racial healing. They can contact us at email@example.com." That's firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIMONSAnd Junie sent us a tweet. Junie sent us tweet. Junie said, "I will most definitely be seeing this film by my friend Jay. This is important work." Sarah has been waiting on the line for a while now. She's calling from Foggy Bottom. Hi, Sarah.
SARAHHi. I'm from Foggy Bottom now. But when I was little, I lived in Montgomery County in the 1950s. And I was actually a little startled when you said these lynchings took place so long ago. I would not had been surprised if they had taken place in the 1900s. I wouldn't have been surprised if they took place in the 1950s.
WILLIAMSWell, there were -- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
SIMONSNo. Go ahead, please.
SARAHMontgomery County was very much the still of the south. I mean, we were the first Jews our neighbors had ever seen in real life person. Can you imagine we lived right near the JCC and the Hebrew Home and all that Charles C. Smith area is now. And we were the first Jews in the 50s. Black people had to come around -- didn't have to. But automatically came around to the side door. They wouldn't think to come up the front stairs and come up the front door.
SARAHAnd Black truck drivers used to stop by Rockville Pike to come around to our house to get water. I mean, there was nowhere else they could go to bathroom or have water, but our house. And how did they even know? I don't know how they even knew things. But it was very much the South in the 1950s in Montgomery County before Brown vs. Board and all that.
SIMONSWell, thanks for sharing that Sarah.
SARAHIt didn't stop. Let me put it that way.
MALLINI wanted to say briefly on the 1960s that lynching stopped, but executions of African Americans didn't. In the 1960s, three young Black men were charged in a rape, convicted, sentenced to death and only released after a local amateur detective turned up evidence that the convictions were a mistake.
SIMONSHere's John as well. He is another caller. He's calling from Colonial Beach, Virginia. Hi, John.
JOHNHi. How are you? Good afternoon.
JOHNI just want to mention I moved from Omaha, Nebraska six years ago. By the way, Jay Mallin, my last name is the same name as he is as well.
JOHNSo we got two Mallins on the program. Good to meet you. Anyhow, the other person, I'm also a high school Social Studies teacher. I couldn't find work in Nebraska 35 years ago when I moved there. So I'm now a federal employee here in the Washington area, which I moved six years ago. I just want to mention I moved from Omaha, Nebraska. Back in 1919, lynchings did not just take place in one are. They were all throughout our country. One was in Omaha, Nebraska where a Black youth was convicted of some type of rape or assault of a white female. He was arrested. There was no evidence, but a large crowd gathered. Frankly even tried to burn down the City Hall in downtown Omaha in 1919.
JOHNYes. There's pictures of it too. They dragged him out. The poor Sheriff gave up. And gave him to the crowd, which they lynched him down the road. It is still pretty much part of Omaha history today. Tragic there, and the National Guard the following day had to come in. They should have done sooner.
SIMONSWell, let me get these guys to weigh in. Thanks for sharing that, John. Jay, is this what's been happening? Are people sort of coming and sharing additional stories with you once they know that you were working on this project?
MALLINThey're finding out that -- yeah. That this was national. I mean, it went from Texas right up to the Canadian border and the stories are amazing. And they haven't -- Mike is changing that -- but they have not been part of the history that people know.
SIMONSI want to leave us with this thought and I'd for you both to weigh in. Tell us how you think this film is going to educate today's students on the past of these neighborhoods that they're living in today.
WILLIAMSWell, I pray that this film will first give everyone a deeper understanding of how if we do not guard against hate in all its forms, then it can lead to very tragic circumstances. If we don't truly believe in the ideals of our nation, in justice, in democracy, in freedom, then we are simply -- we're simply going to allow things to continue and kind of stand as being hypocritical in many ways. And so I'm hoping that it will be a reckoning for us to not only uncover what really happened, but so that we use it as a guide to change for the future. And that's what I think history can serve for us in a lot of ways.
SIMONSCan you briefly add to that, Jay?
MALLINYeah. Just for me, it's awesome to have these three men, Mr. Peck, Mr. Dorsey, Mr. Randolph, to have their names out there. They died in obscurity with no hope and now for people to know about them and talk about them is very moving for me.
SIMONSWell, I'm getting word that we have Ann on the line from Washington. She's a cousin, I'm hearing of one of the victims. Let's take this call. Hi, Ann.
ANNNo. I'm not a cousin at all. Maybe she misunderstood me. I'm Caucasian. And being Caucasian, I am among the relatively privileged in this country through no -- none of my own achievements. And I feel that I have a huge obligation to help those especially African Americans, who have been through 401 years of our shameful history. So I decided finally that wearing a t-shirt saying Black Lives Matter wasn't enough. And I'm not giving contributions to title one schools in the city. And in that way I'm trying to make some reparation.
SIMONSWell, that's wonderful, Ann. Thank you for sharing that with us. Now we do -- my correction here. Paul is on the line with us. He is the cousin of one of the lynching victims. And we just have about a minute to check in with Paul. Hi, Paul. You're on the air. Thanks for calling.
PAULYou mentioned earlier about the Giles Johnson case that took place in the 60s. The Giles brothers were cousins of mine and I was living in Montgomery County during the time this happened. It was very clear that it was a very unjust case that happened against them. And fortunately the help that was given to us by a lawyer by the name of Joe Fore helped bring the case to light and actually get them through the Appeals Court. But this is after years of them spending on death roll in the jails of the State of Maryland.
PAULOne of the things that I would say is that I've been social activist all my life. I started off in NAACP at the age of nine. And I could tell you from a person living in Montgomery County and families from Montgomery County that Montgomery County is not really the image that most people think it is. I remember going to segregated schools in Montgomery County.
SIMONSWe've got about 10 seconds, Paul. Sorry.
JOHNOkay. So I would simply say is that I appreciate you bringing up the stories. And I think that I encourage you all too actually go a little further in looking at the local history of the local areas including Montgomery County.
SIMONSWell, thank you so much.
PAULBecause there's a lot that should be told.
SIMONSAppreciate your call, Paul. Jay Mallin and Michael Williams from the film "The Three (Known) Lynchings of Montgomery County, Maryland." Thank you so much for your time.
MALLINOh, thank you, Sasha.
SIMONSYou're listening to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons. We'll be right back. More to come.
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