Garfield King Versus "Person Unknown"

The First Documented Lynching in Wicomico County, Maryland

“The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased from the black man’s misery” -Frederick Douglas

Garfield King was a resident of the Trappe District in Salisbury, Wicomico County, Maryland. Born in 1880, he graduated from Princess Anne “Colored” Academy and was highly thought of by his neighbors. On May 21st of 1898, King and others got into an argument with a
group of white men. After 22-year-old Herman Kenney ordered King to get out of his way amidst the heated argument, Garfield King shot Kenney in self-defense. Before dying, Kenney made sure to alert the police that King had shot him. A day after the crime was committed, King was put in Wicomico County jail. He was given a preliminary hearing where he was deemed guilty, and it was not long before rumors of lynching the young man could be heard throughout the town.

On the 26th, groups of men roamed the streets until midnight when the lights of the county jail were turned off. A mob of about 100 men crowded outside of the jailhouse where King was being held. Using a telegraph pole they broke the door down and stormed the jail to find the young prisoner. With the blunt force of an ax, the mob broke the cell’s lock to find King, who begged for their mercy. They beat him, dragged him out of his cell, and tied a rope around his neck to hang him from a tree outside of the jailhouse. When they hung him, the rope broke. He fell to the ground, still alive, only to be met with more vicious beatings. They hung King back up. As he faced his last moments, someone shot him. Then the unidentified, yet widely recognized leader of the mob ordered the men to all take a shot at the young man. The autopsy report showed there were over 50 bullet wounds in King’s body, which was displayed the next day at the old Salisbury engine house for locals to see.

There were grand jury testimonies from over 50 witnesses of the lynching who all testified that they were unable to identify any member of the mob. In the court of law, Garfield King was killed by persons unknown, and none of his murderers faced consequences.