Saturday, June 18, 2005

That lynching stuff? Sorry 'bout that... kinda...

Also from e-mail I received today:

(Vol. 11, #27; 16 June 2005)


On 13 June 2005 the U.S. Senate approved a resolution (S. Res. 39) "apologizing to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation." This is the first time the upper chamber has apologized for the American nation's treatment of, principally African Americans but also other ethnic minorities, who were victims of lynchings going back as far as 105 years. "Lynching," states the resolution, is "the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction...[and with the enactment of this legislation this body] remembers the history of lynching, to ensure that these tragedies will be neither forgotten nor repeated."

Between the years 1882 and 1968, over 4700 people were lynched throughout this country in all states but four, but most frequently in the Deep South. Over the past 65 years, seven presidents asked Congress to outlaw lynching. Congress responded to various request by introducing more than 200 anti-lynching bills. On three occasions, the House passed legislation but every time, southern legislators in the Senate opposed the measures -- often arguing that "states rights" were being infringed. Consequently, they filibustered every bill thus ending any hope of passing legislation.

The resolution was introduced by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and George Allen (R-VA) and was co-sponsored by 80 of the Senate's 100 members. Notably missing from the list of co-sponsors were the Republican senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran from Mississippi -- the state that reported the most lynchings. According to a statement issued by Senator Cochran's press representative, Cochran did not agree to the measure as, "I don't feel I should apologize for the passage or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate, but I deplore and regret that lynchings occurred and that those committing them were not punished." By contrast, in his remarks on the floor of the Senate, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) stated, "I am personally struck, even at this significant moment, by the undeniable and inescapable reality that there aren't 100 senators and co-sponsors."

According to spokesperson in Senator Allen's office, "lynching is a thing of the past" and therefore today there is no pressing need for the introduction of legislation making lynching a federal crime. In reality, the 1968 Civil Rights Act includes a provision for "federal intervention" in the case of lynching should it ever be necessary thus negating the need for federal legislation; in addition, many states have enacted anti-lynching legislation at the state level.

Following three hours of debate on the apology, the moment when the resolution passage lacked any drama: few senators were on the floor, there was no roll call and no accounting for each vote. Nevertheless, for the 200 descendants and family friends of lynching victims that were invited to Washington to witness the historic event, it was an experience they soon will not forget.

1 comment:

laura k said...

Thanks for posting about this. I have to say, that 4700 number seems very low. Some sources put the total at more than double that.