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Carl Snowden: John Snowden was hanged for a crime he didn’t commit, 103 years ago today in Annapolis


FEB 28, 2021 AT 5:25 AM

As we conclude Black History Month, it is important that we take note of an incredible moment in our city’s history.

The year was 1918, the month was February, the day was the 28th, and a man by the name of John Snowden would be placed on the gallows in Annapolis and hanged. He would be put to death for a crime that he claimed that he didn’t commit.

The Baltimore Sun in an editorial on May 26, 2000, wrote these words:

“John Snowden didn’t ask for forgiveness. He asked for more than that. An African-American accused of killing a pregnant white woman, he asked people to believe that he didn’t do it.

“He asked the jury that convicted him in a racially charged, controversial trial. And he asked the throng that watched him drop four feet to his death, the last person to die on Anne Arundel County gallows.”

John Snowden is buried in the Brewer Hill Cemetery on West Street.

I remember both the Sun’s editorial and the efforts of people of goodwill to have the then Gov. Parris N. Glendening to pardon posthumously a man, who had my surname, although we were not related.

His neice, Hazel Snowden, the late Rev. Mamie A. Williams, George Phelps, Jr., Jeffrey C. Henderson, Joy C. Bramble. Frederick C. Howard, Roger L. Murray, Janice Hayes-Williams, the Rev. Victor O. Johnson and I spearheaded the effort to have Glendening to pardon John Snowden. Glendening, to his everlasting glory, did!

John Snowden, in a photo taken just before his hanging. (Courtesy Photo, HANDOUT)

I remember being at Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis with then-County Executive Janet Owens as we celebrated this moment in history.

I remember the tears of joy that flowed on that occasion. I remember reading the eloquent excerpt of John Snowden’s last remarks before he was hanged, near, what is now the Arundel Center.

He said on the eve of his execution, “I have been imprisoned and now I am about to shake hands with time and welcome eternity, for in a few hours from now, I shall step out of time into eternity to pay the penalty of a crime I am not guilty of.”

The last words he said were: “I could not leave this world with a lie in my mouth.”

With the stroke of a pen, Glendening righted a historic wrong. It has been two decades since he posthumously pardoned John Snowden.

Black History is American history. It is a history that includes injustices and victories. And it is a history that is a stark reminder of what the late renowned author James Baldwin said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

On behalf of a grateful community, I want to thank Glendening for his pardon of John Snowden, a pardon that became the catalyst for racial healing in our city and country.

As The Sun stated in 2000,

“Governor Glendening should pardon Snowden to acknowledge that Maryland shared in the injustices against black men, although not nearly to the degree of Deep South states.”

It was the Sun that further wrote that Glendening had the “opportunity to finally bring forgiveness to Snowden and Maryland”.

It is the reason that I can write with certainty, A Luta Continua, which in Portugees means that the struggle for justice and peace continues, because of a governor, who understood Black history is American history.

Carl Snowden is a longtime Annapolis civil rights advocate and convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders.

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