On this dayOct 23, 1909

White Mob Attempts to Lynch Black Man Near the U.S. Capitol

On this day in 1909, a white mob from Maryland boldly attempted to lynch a Black man just blocks from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in a dramatic display of the lawless reign of terror against Black people that defined this era. The mob dispersed only after D.C. police promised to turn over the intended lynching victim the next morning. 

On October 22, a Black man was accused of attacking a white girl during a robbery near Landover, Maryland. When news of the incident spread and Walter Ford, a 26-year-old Black man, was targeted as the suspect, Mr. Ford was seized by local police in Washington, D.C., where he lived. During this era, allegations against Black people were rarely subject to scrutiny and often sparked violent reprisal even when there was no evidence tying the accused to any offense. Mr. Ford was detained by the Washington, D.C., police department.  

That evening and into the next day, a white lynch mob of more than 100 people from nearby Prince George’s County, Maryland, arrived at the jail, committed to lynching Mr. Ford. Just blocks from the Capitol grounds and in the face of D.C. law enforcement, the mob wielded shotguns, pitchforks, and revolvers. For hours, they attempted to seize Mr. Ford from the jail. In the early hours of the morning on October 23, the would-be lynchers dispersed only after law enforcement promised to turn over Mr. Ford to the mob the next morning. While police ultimately did not turn Mr. Ford over, the mob believed this promise would be kept given widespread law enforcement complicity in lynchings. 

The lawlessness that prevailed during this era was possible because state and federal governments retreated from the rule of law, allowing more than 6,500 Black women, men, and children to become victims of racial terror lynching in the U.S. between 1865-1950. These lynch mobs acted with impunity, and in many cases acted in tandem with members of law enforcement who were charged with protecting those in their custody. The federal government’s failure to protect citizens was a serious obstacle to protecting Black people from racial violence and terrorism. No one from the Prince County lynch mob was ever arrested or held responsible for attempting to lynch Mr. Ford just blocks away from the U.S. Capitol. 

Learn more about the era of racial terror lynching in the Equal Justice Initiative’s report, Lynching in America

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