Last week Del. Nick Mosby (D-40) of Baltimore convened a hearing in Annapolis to introduce House Joint Resolution 12 to establish a commission to rename Negro Mountain.
The hearing was precipitated by removal of signs for the mountain along Interstate 68 and U.S. Alternate Route 40 last spring and subsequent Times-News article last fall, which were picked up by the Associated Press.
In the Times-News article, “Negro mountain signs removed,” (Sept. 9, 2019) local historian Lynn Bowman introduced a previously unrecorded and heretofore unknown genesis for the mountain’s namesake.
The Times-News reported:
From her research, on the west side of the mountain there was an area called (N-word) Hollow where black people were lynched. “I don’t think that was the origin of it,” she said of Negro Mountain’s name. “That’s one of the things that is related to it.”
The Associated Press re-reported:
Bowman told the newspaper the origin of the mountain’s name is unknown, but some accounts refer to it being named after a black man who died in a battle with Native Americans. Lynchings were also said to have taken place on the mountain.
According to the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), non-profit organizations that document and commemorate extra-judicial killings, no lynching is known to have occurred in Garrett County, Maryland. Furthermore, EJI has documented two lynchings that occurred in Pennsylvania, both hundreds of miles east of the 30-mile mountain ridge that bisects Garrett County and Pennsylvania’s Somerset County.
I recently sought clarity from Bowman, who responded on social media she’d heard, “stories about people being killed in racial crimes on the Pennsylvania end of the mountain.”
Without corroborating sources, Bowman is apparently confident enough, or rather reckless enough, to claim to know of “lynchings” and/or “racial crimes” that are not only not present nor reflected in any known extant archival record in either Maryland or Pennsylvania but are inconsistent with any known oral tradition.
As the singular source of this claim, Bowman has not publicly provided any substantiating information or detail, such as a date(s), name(s) or location(s).
My research to determine Bowman’s claims revealed stories of witches, boss deer and moonshining on Negro Mountain but nothing resembling “lynchings” or “racial crimes.”
Unfortunately, lack of historicity didn’t prevent Del. Mosby from offering, during his opening remarks, “There may be a history of lynchings that took place in the mountain.”
In extemporaneous remarks Mosby, after contradicting documentation that precedes the Declaration of Independence, added, “We don’t know if the person that has quote-on-quote been called Nemesis was even lynched in that area.”
Last April I presented, “The Lost History of Frederick Douglass in Western Maryland” to students, faculty and community members at Frostburg State University. I shared details of the 1879 visit of U.S. Marshal Frederick Douglass to Cumberland for an Emancipation Day event and his 1882 lecture in Frostburg, nearly two decades before Gov. Lloyd Lowndes, a friend of Douglass, supported the founding of State Normal School No. 2.
Across four centuries the folklore of “Negro Mountain” has been part of the history of Appalachia Maryland. Until last fall that folklore and history was absent evidence or insinuations of “lynchings.” It is still absent any evidence absent insinuations by Bowman that have now been repeated by a state delegate.
Bowman, who represents Allegany County on the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, is responsible to her community and the state to provide evidence and explanation for her claims or offer an immediate retraction and henceforth apologize.
Nothing less will properly honor the history, folklore and humanity of Appalachia Maryland and all its people, communities and places.