Statement from Montgomery County Commission on Remembrance and Reconciliation Commemorating and Remembering the Lynchings of Mr. John Diggs-Dorsey and Mr. Sidney Randolph
Feature photo of the Montgomery County Jail building in Rockville (1935), where John Diggs-Dorsey was dragged from to his lynching on July 27, 1880 courtesy of Montgomery History.
For Immediate Release: Friday, July 16, 2021
The month of July begins with our national commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with its powerful refrain “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” We hold those words before us as promises of a hope for all people.
At the same time, we, the Montgomery County Commission on Remembrance and Reconciliation, pause to remember the lives of two people who were denied the rights of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and were killed by lynch mobs over accusations that never saw a courtroom. We honor the memory of Mr. John Diggs-Dorsey and Mr. Sidney Randolph, both of whom were victims of acts of racial terror and subjugation in Montgomery County.
In a cruel twist of archival truth, we do not know the specific dates of their birth—the date that we normally lift up to acknowledge life – so we must respectfully acknowledge the known date of the tragic events that ended their lives. In July 1880, Mr. John Diggs-Dorsey was lynched. In July 1896, Mr. Sidney Randolph was lynched. Both lynchings took place in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Mr. John Dorsey, also known as John Diggs, a Black man in his early twenties, was living and working in Darnestown in 1880 as servant to a middle-aged couple, James and Linnie Tschiffely. On the morning of July 25, while James was out of town, Linnie Tschiffely appeared at a neighbor’s house badly beaten, and accused John Diggs-Dorsey of raping her and physically assaulting her the night before. After a two-day manhunt that spread across the state and into Washington, D.C., Diggs-Dorsey was apprehended on July 26 while walking along a public road and brought to the County jail in Rockville. In custody, Mr. Diggs-Dorsey was afforded neither protection from the lynch mob nor his right to a trial, as several hours later, in the early morning hours of July 27, a lynch mob of white people forced open the jail. Mr. Diggs-Dorsey was illegally removed from his cell, marched in leg-irons to a place one mile outside town on Route 28 and hanged from the limb of a tree until dead. The local jury of inquest, as well as the grand jury convened four months later, both returned a verdict of death by “violence committed by parties unknown.”
Mr. Sidney Randolph, a native of Georgia was lynched in Rockville, Maryland on July 4, 1896 by an officially unidentified group of white men from Montgomery County. He was in his mid-twenties. The full story of Sidney Randolph’s murder was connected to the mystery involving an axe-wielding attack by an unknown person on the Buxton family of Gaithersburg in May of that same year, and the subsequent death of the youngest child, Sadie Buxton. Though professional detectives were brought in from both Washington and Baltimore to investigate the case, local residents of Gaithersburg took it upon themselves to find and/or create circumstantial evidence implicating Sidney Randolph, a newcomer to the area who had no motive and who consistently maintained his innocence. Randolph survived repeated interrogations while imprisoned from May 25 until July 4. In custody, Mr. Randolph was afforded neither protection from the lynch mob nor his right to a trial, as a masked mob of white men dragged him from his cell in the Rockville jail, brutally beat him, and hanged him from a tree just outside of town along Route 355. His murderers were never identified nor brought to justice for this crime.
We know both that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and that “there can be no reconciliation without truth.” This demands that this July we acknowledge these tragic events, remember these slain men, their families and their communities.
We ask all citizens of Montgomery County to pause during the month of July and remember our nation’s founding but still incomplete commitment to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” for all people. In memory of Mr. Diggs-Dorsey and Mr. Randolph, we dedicate ourselves anew to the work of justice and reconciliation.
There are three known lynchings that occurred in Montgomery County, Maryland. Mr. George Peck was lynched on Jan. 10, 1880 in Poolesville, Maryland. The Montgomery County Commission for Remembrance and Reconciliation will provide a full acknowledgement for Mr. Peck in January.
About the Montgomery County Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission:
The Montgomery County Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission was formed on January 29, 2019, through a resolution by Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Will Jawando and Craig Rice. The commission was established to support the goal of bringing the County together to promote a better understanding of our history. The Montgomery County Office of Human Rights provides staff support.