“Something of a Race War”
Black-white relations in the Sandy Spring area at the turn of the nineteenth century were complex and contradictory. Traditions of tolerance among Sandy Spring Quakers stood face-to-face with brutal institutional racism that permeated Montgomery County society at large.
Restrictive, segregationist and dehumanizing laws passed during the height of the Jim Crow era increased tensions between Blacks and whites. Sandy Spring was not immune to the friction, and occasionally confrontations would occur, which the local newspapers breathlessly reported on, not so much to inform but to inflame.
About ten o’clock on a Friday night in January of 1907, Charles W. Brown, an Ashton merchant, was amusing himself and a group of young white men by setting off firecrackers in front of Brown’s store. The commotion attracted the attention of a “party of young negroes,” as the Baltimore Sun reported, who came to watch the festivities.
A firecracker was thrown at one of the young Black men who had gathered in front of the store. Incensed, he confronted the white man he believed threw the firework. “Something of a race war” ensued, the Baltimore Sun reported, with a pitched battle breaking out in the street between Brown and his white friends and the Black youths.
After a brief but intense battle, Brown and his associates fled inside the store, where they locked themselves in. They remained there until the following morning, “the negroes having made threats,” the Sun claimed.
Brown was reportedly the only one injured to any extent; he was “badly knocked about,” noted the Democratic Advocate in that paper’s rendition of the incident.
Tensions dissipated in the morning light. No arrests were ever made.