Walking the Path Toward Race Equity in Garrett County

All are welcome in Garret Coutny
In July of 2020, our General Counsel, Paddy Morton, was driving to Deep Creek Lake for a family vacation when she saw a human lynching effigy.
Trigger warning: Distressing image

Horrified, she contacted the authorities who indicated the effigy had been hanging on that private property for years and there was nothing that could be done about it. With Heather Iliff’s leadership, Maryland Nonprofits responded to the situation by convening local nonprofit leaders and supportive community members to participate in what has become our Garrett County Anti-Racism Discussion Group. The group has met (by Zoom) every 2-4 weeks since the summer of 2020, co-led by Carmen Marshall, our Director of Consulting and head of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion efforts and Paddy Morton.

To convene the group, we reached out first to Duane Yoder, President of Garrett County Community Action, one of our nonprofit members in the County, for his assistance in assembling the group. Duane has since been elected to the Maryland Nonprofits Board of Directors. Although the discussion group was formed to prompt the conservative Garrett County community to respond to the lynching effigy, it expanded to a broader consideration of race equity as a result of what we learned from local citizens. Based on first-person accounts from residents and community leaders, including Kate Brodie-Smith, the first Black person elected to office in Garrett County (Oakland Town Council), we came to understand that racism not only exists in Garrett County, but is a serious threat to the County’s health, reputation, and main source of commerce – tourism. Local nonprofits and community leaders have spearheaded numerous race equity initiatives, which Maryland Nonprofits has supported and fostered.

As an example, in July 2020 we supported CEO Will Schwartz and the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project in addressing the Garrett County State’s Attorney, challenging the State’s Attorney to respond to the lynching effigy with the new Maryland legislation (SB 161[1] and SB 606[2]) and case law[3] related to hate crimes. The State’s Attorney has declined to take any action.

We supported members of the Anti-Racism Discussion Group, led by Vianne Bell and Scott Hollingsworth, in approaching the County Commissioners to create a Diversity Committee, the function of which is to “conduct listening tours in Garrett County to understand and develop solutions to improve communications and disseminate information about the diverse population in the County, and to prepare and present a report to the Board of County Commissioners on the results of the Listening Tour.” Learn more

After public hearings, the County Commissioners approved the formation of the committee, although as of this date the committee members who will constitute the body still have not been appointed.[4]

Several members of the Anti-Racism group undertook the effort to form the Garrett County Chapter of the NAACP which was approved in 2021 – the last county in Maryland to approve a chapter. Having garnered the support of over 100 citizens, the chapter is successfully conducting local activities and participating with the Maryland State Conference.  Our committee member, Daphne Gooding, is the Chair of the chapter.

Other members of the Anti-Racism group, led by Don Sincell, have spearheaded an effort to protect and preserve the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church which is known as the only African American church in Garrett County at the turn of the Century (1900-1920s). It was moved to a private farm in the 1930s and will be relocated to Mountain Lake Park near Oakland. Funding has been secured to restore the church so it can serve as a historical marker and learning center dedicated to the history of the county’s Black residents. Learn more.

Many members of the Anti-Racism Discussion Group contributed to the Chamber of Commerce’s small sign campaign, designing and promoting the distribution of small signs to be displayed by businesses and merchants in the County encouraging a welcoming culture. Even a simple statement such as “All are welcome in Garrett County” can influence how locals and visitors see the community.

"All are Welcome in Garret County" graphic

One member of the group, Liz Sines, has co-founded Anti-Racist Appalachia, a volunteer network and social justice club that seeks to combat racism in Appalachia through community education and mutual aid. The group has more than 650 followers and meets regularly (virtually) to discuss all things equity.

More good news by association: Liz, who is a regular participant in our anti-racism discussion group meetings, was the named plaintiff in the civil action brought against organizers, promoters, and participants in the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, VA. Sines v. Kessler ended with a jury verdict for the plaintiffs over $25M, for claims of civil conspiracy and race-based harassment and violence. Bystander Heather Heyer was killed by one of the rally organizers when he rammed his car into the crowd.

Group member Erin Ruth Natividad led the effort to push the Garrett County Board of Education to ban Confederate flags on school campuses. The ban now extends to anyone on school property, not just students. Learn more.

We are proud to support the members of the Anti-Racism Discussion Group in their work toward a more equitable community.  Our hope is that by convening like-minded community members we can support their work, help them network with each other, and promote justice and equity in the western part of our state, all of which advances our mission:  to strengthen organizations and networks for greater quality of life and equity.

1] SB 161, enacted in May 2020 prohibits the display of certain hate items and/or symbols

(including a noose) on public or private property with the intent of threatening or

intimidating a person or group.

[2] SB 606, also enacted in May 2020 closes a loophole in the state’s hate crimes law so that it is

no longer necessary that hate is the only motivating factor for a crime to be considered

a hate crime.

[3] The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued an opinion in Lipp v. State of Maryland (227 A.3d 818, 246 Md.App. 105, 2020), rejecting a free speech challenge to Maryland’s hate crime law. Citing the US Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin vs. Mitchell (1993) the Maryland high court ruled that “the First

Amendment does not protect bias-motivated speech when it is coupled with non-verbal conduct otherwise proscribed.”

[4] https://www.garrettcounty.org/news/2021/10/gc-diversity-committee-seeking-community-members

About Maryland Nonprofits    

Home to more than 1,300 members, Maryland Nonprofits’ mission is to strengthen organizations and networks for greater quality of life and equity. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Maryland Nonprofits supports the nonprofit community to build organizational strength, foster collaboration, and advocate for public policy that puts people first. Maryland Nonprofits has served as a hub of information during the COVID-19 Pandemic, helping nonprofits navigate the public health challenges, workplace and employee stresses, novel pandemic funding mechanisms, and the economic impact of COVID. Maryland Nonprofits offers the Standards for Excellence®, a nationally replicated accreditation program that enhances governance, management, and the public’s trust in the nonprofit sector, and is also home of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth and Maryland Latinos Unidos.

Padraic (“Paddy”) McSherry Morton has been providing legal services to Maryland Nonprofits’ members since 2002. Prior to her work with Maryland Nonprofits, Mrs.Morton was an Associate with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, LLP and Law Clerk to the Honorable William M. Nickerson of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.