The Conversation: Book Talk Series Featuring Dr. Charles Chavis

The Conversation is an open discussion series hosted by African American Studies Program at George Mason University. It provides a platform for authors and scholars in the DMV to discuss pressing their research in relation to issues at the intersections of race, peace, and justice.

In this episode, Dr. Keith Clark and Dr. Monifa Love were featured to celebrate Keith Clark’s book Navigating the Fiction  of Ernest J Gains, A Roadmap for Readers.  


Dr. Charles Chavis, Assistant Professor of History and Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, has written the definitive account of the lynching of 22-year-old Matthew Williams in Maryland in 1931. He meticulously explores the subsequent investigation of Mr. Williams’s murder and the legacy of “modern-day lynchings.”

Professor E.R. Shipp is a journalist-scholar with advanced degrees from Columbia University - as well as from life, which has been no crystal stair. She is a founding faculty member of the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University, where she currently directs the school's new Baltimore Reporting Project.She is a 1996 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, considered one of the most prestigious awards in American journalism. She was the first black woman to receive the Pulitzer in the category of commentary.

The lynching of Mathew WIllams is one of the last of its kind highlighting the untold events as this country is going through a racial rekoning due to recent events. These untold narratives are significant, as we make this conversation richer allowing us to heal as a nation and move forward by uncovering the past. There is a large focuson on the deep south when it comes to the history of lynching like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia however Dr. Chavis’s goal was to identify the role of lynching in the state of Maryland as it had forty  thousand cases of racially motivated events. Inspired by highschool students asking about the racial history of Maryland he worked to reconstruct the past. Dr.Chavis touches on the systemic displacement of African Americans and the attack on thriving communities such as east shore maryland during the great depression. He calls for a stop of the suppression of important events in black history and further continues this conversation into racial healing and justice. 


The definitive account of the lynching of twenty-three-year-old Matthew Williams in Maryland, the subsequent investigation, and the legacy of "modern-day" lynchings.

On December 4, 1931, a mob of white men in Salisbury, Maryland, lynched and set ablaze a twenty-three-year-old Black man named Matthew Williams. His gruesome murder was part of a wave of silent white terrorism in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, which exposed Black laborers to white rage in response to economic anxieties. For nearly a century, the lynching of Matthew Williams has lived in the shadows of the more well-known incidents of racial terror in the deep South, haunting both the Eastern Shore and the state of Maryland as a whole. In The Silent Shore, author Charles L. Chavis Jr. draws on his discovery of previously unreleased investigative documents to meticulously reconstruct the full story of one of the last lynchings in Maryland.

Bringing the painful truth of anti-Black violence to light, Chavis breaks the silence that surrounded Williams's death. Though Maryland lacked the notoriety for racial violence of Alabama or Mississippi, he writes, it nonetheless was the site of at least 40 spectacle lynchings after the abolition of slavery in 1864. Families of lynching victims rarely obtained any form of actual justice, but Williams's death would have a curious afterlife: Maryland's politically ambitious governor Albert C. Ritchie would, in an attempt to position himself as a viable challenger to FDR, become one of the first governors in the United States to investigate the lynching death of a Black person. Ritchie tasked Patsy Johnson, a member of the Pinkerton detective agency and a former prizefighter, with going undercover in Salisbury and infiltrating the mob that murdered Williams. Johnson would eventually befriend a young local who admitted to participating in the lynching and who also named several local law enforcement officers as ringleaders. Despite this, a grand jury, after hearing 124 witness statements, declined to indict the perpetrators. But this denial of justice galvanized Governor Ritchie's Interracial Commission, which would become one of the pioneering forces in the early civil rights movement in Maryland.

Complicating historical narratives associated with the history of lynching in the city of Salisbury, The Silent Shore explores the immediate and lingering effect of Williams's death on the politics of racism in the United States, the Black community in Salisbury, the broader Eastern Shore, the state of Maryland, and the legacy of "modern-day lynchings."