Dr. Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm, associate professor of political science at UA Little Rock, has advised a Maryland commission tasked with investigating the history of lynching in the state.
The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission is authorized to research cases of racially motivated lynchings and hold public meetings and regional hearings where a lynching of an African American by a white mob has been documented. The commission has investigated 38 documented cases of lynching in Maryland.
“They are trying to uncover more information about each of these lynching cases and then provide venues for people to talk about these episodes, in particular for descendants of the victims and perpetrators to talk about their feelings and reactions and how these crimes have affected their lives,” Wiebelhaus-Brahm said. “The committee is also prompting memorials to occur in the form of informational plaques at the sites of the crimes.”
As the commission wraps up its work in 2024, commissioners will submit a final report to the governor and General Assembly with recommendations to move the commission’s work forward. During a Nov. 12 conference in Baltimore, Wiebelhaus-Brahm presented his suggestions on how to maximize the commission’s impact based upon his research on truth and reconciliation efforts in different parts of the world.
“Truth commissions, in many ways, are the start of the conversation about the past,” Wiebelhaus-Brahm said. “Truth is often needed before other things can happen to address the past. Truth commissions produce a final report with a history of what was investigated and recommendations about what else should be done about the past and how to prevent these things from happening in the future. Research suggests that the process should be broadly open to the public so members of the affected communities can offer suggestions for recommendations.”
Wiebelhaus-Brahm, author of the books “Truth Commissions and Transitional Societies” and “Exploring Truth Commission Recommendations in a Comparative Perspective,” added that truth commissions often recommend the creation of a follow-up body to coordinate and monitor implementation of the commission’s recommendations.
“Involved parties can also keep in contact with local and state politicians to ensure that the commission is not the end of the conversation about racial violence in the state and that there are further conversations about how to improve race relations,” he added.
No state-initiated truth and reconciliation commissions have taken place in Arkansas, but Wiebelhaus-Brahm said efforts are moving forward to create memorials for lyching victims in the state.
“In Maryland, the commission is helping to prompt memorials,” Wiebelhaus-Brahm said. “In Arkansas, the memorial effort has been moving forward. In some counties, there has already been action taken to memorialize places where lynchings have occurred.”