90 Years Protecting Civil Rights, Challenging Racism

90th ACLU of Maryland Anniversary

Dana Vickers Shelley and John Henderson photos with the 90 years ACLU of Maryland logo in the middle

In 2021, the ACLU of Maryland is celebrating a special birthday. It’s our 90th year protecting civil liberties and civil rights, and advancing racial justice. With this year being marked by a global pandemic and a re-invigorated national racial justice movement, our efforts have been even more necessary and urgent. Ninety years later, ACLU-MD continues our journey for race equity that began at our founding.  

When Activist Elisabeth Gilman and her friends attempted to get some justice for Orphan Jones aka Euel Lee in 1931, the case spurred the first gathering of what would become the ACLU of Maryland. A Black man from Virginia, Lee was racially mistreated, threatened with lynching by a white mob, beaten before he was questioned, brutalized, charged with murder, and denied counsel.

The foundation of our organization was based on racial justice. It played a central role in the ACLU of Maryland’s first case. We are now seen as one of America’s premier guardians of liberty; our staff, Board of Directors, and other key stakeholders, remain determined to live that commitment each day.

Back then, we were able to provide Euel Lee some measure of due process, but it wasn’t enough. The system of white supremacy and injustice remained and we still see it today. Yet, we are still motivated to dismantle it. We are determined to see the day where everyone has their humanity valued, and their civil liberties and rights respected.

Sadly, our 90th anniversary year is marked by the need to pursue justice for the murder by police of a young Black man, Anton Black, who was killed in 2018 by white officers and a white civilian, also on the Eastern Shore. Today, Anton Black’s family seeks justice with the support of the ACLU. They are challenging the systemic role that medical examiners play in justifying police killings, particularly of Black people.

His family described their son, Anton Black, as “loving” and a family-oriented person. He had many dreams like any college student, ranging from enlisting in the military to pursuing modeling and acting. Anton’s dreams were just beginning to come true but he was killed before he could fulfill any of them.

The murder of Anton by police made a big impact in his community, leaving many people suffering. The police officers who did this were not held accountable because medical examiners justified the police narrative of what happened. They blamed the killing of Anton on his bipolar disorder as a contributing cause instead of asphyxiation from having multiple bodies weighing down his body.

What can we all do now to make things truly different? To achieve systemic change that overcomes white supremacy? To ensure we aren’t faced with the same racist inhumanity after another 90 years in Maryland?

We need change, which is why we developed a four-year strategic plan that has as its centerpiece a fundamentally different way of working.  Coalitions are growing across the state – including on the Eastern Shore – that center the leadership and experience of Marylanders directly impacted by state systems that perpetuate injustice. The ACLU of Maryland is committed to centering and investing in this work and together making a deep and lasting impact.  

You are a part of an important movement. Together, let’s ensure that 90 years from now we have dismantled white supremacy and finally realized rights for all Marylanders.