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A Second Reckoning tells the story of John Snowden, a Black man accused of the murder of a pregnant white woman in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1917. He refused to confess despite undergoing torture, was tried--through legal shenanigans--by an all-white jury, and was found guilty on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to death. Despite hair-raising, last-minute appeals to spare his life, Snowden was hanged for the crime. But decades after his death, thanks to tireless efforts by interested citizens and family members who believed him a victim of a "legal lynching," Snowden was pardoned posthumously by the governor of Maryland in 2001.
Scott D. Seligman uses Snowden's case to bring posthumous pardons into the national conversation about amends for past racial injustices. Seligman argues that the repeal of racist laws and policies must be augmented by reckoning with America's judicial past, especially in cases in which prejudice may have tainted procedures or perverted verdicts, evidence of bias survives, and a constituency exists for a second look. Seligman illustrates the profound effects such acts of clemency have on the living and ends with a siren call for a reexamination of such cases on the national level by the Department of Justice, which officially refuses to consider them.
Scott D. Seligman is a writer and historian. He is the author of numerous books, including The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City (Potomac Books, 2020), the award-winning The Third Degree: The Triple Murder That Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice (Potomac Books, 2018), and The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo.