You Might Like

Matthew Williams (February 8, 1908 – December 4, 1931) was a black man lynched by a white mob in Salisbury, Maryland.[1]

Early life

Matthew Williams was born on February 8, 1908, the second and youngest child of Annie Handy and Harry Williams. Following the death of his mother from pneumonia when he was just 4 years old, he and his sister Olivia were sent to live with their maternal grandmother, Ms Mary Handy, in Salisbury, Maryland.[2]

Life in Salisbury, Maryland

Shortly after starting school in Maryland at the age of 8, Matthew's father died. By age 14, his grandfather also died, forcing Matthew to leave school and seek employment to help the family earn a living. Upon the death of his grandmother, Matthew went to live on Isabella Avenue in the black district of Salisbury with his maternal Aunt, Addie Black, and her husband Thomas Black Sr.; along with his cousins Viola, Thomas Jr. Preston, Edna, and Mary.[3] His Aunt Addie called him "Buddie".

At some point in his teenage years, Matthew Williams went to work for a local white employer - one Mr. Daniel J. Elliot - who owned a lumberyard and box factory in town. Matthew worked as a laborer in the factory, but also did odd jobs for the Elliot family. According to know accounts, the Elliot family were "quite fond of Williams, and he of them".[4]

In her book, On The Courthouse Lawn, professor and civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill wrote of Matthew Williams:

December 4, 1931

The last time his family saw Matthew alive was in the afternoon of December 4, 1931. After playing with his cousins, Matthew announced to his aunt that he was going to work. By that evening, Daniel J. Elliot was dead and Matthew Williams was in the hospital.

The official story goes that Matthew Williams went to his employers office, and the two began arguing over wages. At some point in the argument, Matthew Williams shot Daniel Elliot, then turned the gun on himself, unsuccessfully. Daniel Elliot's son, James Elliot, was reported to have found the two, and using the gun fired two more shots at Matthew Williams, wounding him in the chest and leg.

The 1970's biography of Dorchester County waterman Joseph L. Sutton recounts a different story:

Williams was taken to Peninsula General Hospital (now Peninsula Regional Medical Center), where he was placed in the "Negro Ward" in a straitjacket, and his head bandaged so that he could not see.


What happened next was described by one Mr. Howard A. Nelson, a light-skinned man of color visiting from Philadelphia. His account from the Baltimore Afro-American:

The following is from the edition of December 5 of the Baltimore Post:

The size of the mob was further corroborated in a report by The Baltimore Sun

Sometime the following year, the Baltimore Afro-American received an account from an unidentified eyewitness to the murder of Matthew Williams:

A second victim

In the days following Matthew Williams murder, a second victim of mob violence was found in Salisbury. This from the edition of December 12, 1931 of the Baltimore Afro-American:


Despite the size of the mob and the preponderance of eye-witnesses, no one was ever identified or prosecuted for the lynching of Matthew Williams. After a year long probe by MD. State Attorney General William Preston Lane at the behest of Governor Albert Ritchie, it was concluded (as reported in the Baltimore Post on March 19, 1932) that:


Matthew Williams one of three lynchings that took place in Salisbury, Maryland. The others were an unknown victim in the days following William's murder, and Garfield King in May 1898).

He was one of seven known lynchings on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and one of 29 recorded in the state of Maryland.

You Might Like