Sumner Hall’s James Taylor Justice Coalition grapples with the history of lynching in Kent County

By Emma Reilly

Elm Staff Writer

Through collaboration, outreach, and historical documentation, the James Taylor Justice Coalition of Sumner Hall is illuminating Kent County’s past and fostering a better understanding of its present.

The JTJC reflects Sumner Hall’s dedication to the exploration of racial relations in Kent County.

The coalition was formed by Sumner Hall in July 2019 and is named after James Taylor, an African American man who was lynched in Chestertown in 1892.

According to Sumner Hall’s website, community members created the JTJC in response to Governor Hogan’s approval of Maryland House Bill 307. 

The bill was signed into law on April 18, 2019 and authorized the creation of the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which “research[es] cases of racially motivated lynchings and hold[s] public meetings and regional hearings where a lynching of an African American by a white mob has been documented,” according to their website.

Similarly, the JTJC uses Taylor’s story as a touchpoint for the research, documentation, and preservation of African American history at the local level.

Through its outreach efforts, the coalition hopes to encourage open community dialogue about past and present “racial terror and injustice,” according to their website.

“First it started from an open discussion,” Sumner Hall’s Media and Communications Coordinator Gordon Wallace said.

According to Wallace, community response to the proposed JTJC was positive.

The relevance of the coalition’s efforts transcends the period in which Taylor’s unjust lynching occurred. 

“People need to understand who James Taylor is, understand how [the JTJC] are trying to make the correlation,” Wallace said. “Police brutality is considered modern-day lynching, so to build that bridge different generations need to understand why this is important.”

The JTJC is assisted in its efforts by several partnerships, including the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project, which “collaborates with communities to memorialize documented victims of racial violence and foster meaningful dialogue about race and justice,” according to their website.

As a part of their Community Remembrance Project, the EJI established the James Taylor Remembrance Coalition in 2020.

At a recent town hall meeting, Chestertown’s Mayor and Town Council expressed support for and recognition of the JTJC, according to Student Government Association Secretary of Service and Community Relations sophomore Maegan White.

Besides this acknowledgement, White said the JTJC benefits from a connection to Chestertown’s Equity Advisory Committee.

On Oct. 5, 2020, the Equity Advisory Committee was created as a part of the Chestertown Unites Against Racism initiative — a 16-month initiative focused on addressing and confronting systematic racism in Chestertown. 

In recent months, the Equity Advisory Committee has worked closely with the JTJC to create opportunities for community engagement.

According to White, there are several ways for the students to get involved.

“My main focus this year has been finding ways … that the student body can be more engaged in the town, especially in diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives,” she said.

According to White, the JTJC — in collaboration with the Equity Advisory Committee, Sumner Hall, and the Bayside HOYAS — plans to create a book club to discuss “On the Courthouse Lawn” by Sherrilyn A. Ifill. The book discusses the history of lynching in America.

This virtual opportunity will be offered to community members and college students.

The JTJC is also considering hosting an event for the anniversary of the lynching of James Taylor, according to White.

Between the JTJC’s current initiatives and its future plans, real headway is being made towards racial reckoning in Chestertown and Kent County, and the WC community is welcome — and encouraged — to take part in that effort, according to White.

Featured Photo caption: Sumner Hall launched its James Taylor Justice Coalition to recognize and increase community dialogue regarding racial terror and injustice in Kent County. The coalition takes its name in honor of James Taylor, a Black man who was lynched in Chestertown in 1892, according to Sumner Hall’s website. Elm File Photo.

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