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U.S. Senate apologizes for shame of lynchings

It’s never too late to apologize. This is a shameful, evil practice that is part of our history, like it or not. It’s especially painful because Southern Democrats were the ones that continually held up passage of anti-lynching laws proposed by Congress. I highly recommend James Allen’s Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. This was the book that spurred Senators. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and George Allen (R-VA) to put forth this measure that passed today.

The Senate on Monday formally apologized for having rejected decades of pleas to make lynching a federal crime as scores victims’ descendants watched from the chamber’s gallery. On a voice vote and without opposition, the Senate passed a resolution expressing its regrets to the relatives as well as to the nearly 5,000 Americans — mostly black males — who were documented as having been lynched from 1880 to 1960.

These deaths occurred without trials, mostly in the South, often with the knowledge of local officials who allowed mob lynchings to become picture-taking, public spectacles. During this period, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, three of which passed the House of Representatives.

But despite the support of the legislation by seven U.S. presidents, the measures died in the Senate with much of the opposition coming from southern lawmakers who raised procedural roadblocks. Such legislation would have made lynching a federal crime and allowed the U.S. government to prosecute those responsible, including local law enforcement officers.

It should be noted that, even in 2005, 20 of the 100 senators had not signed a statement of support of the measure shortly before a vote was taken on a nearly empty Senate floor. Who are these people? Maybe they need a reminder of what we’re talking about here.

[UPDATE, from Gary at Facing South.]:

Just before the resolution passed on Monday, 18 more senators signed on, bringing to 79 the total of sponsors and cosponsors (THOMAS lists Allen as a cosponsor, though some sources name him a sponsor along with Landrieu). Nine of these procrastinators were from Southern states:

Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Mel Martinez (R-FL)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
John Warner (R-VA)
Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

These are the bigots who refused to sign on to cosponsor a freaking apology:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Kay Hutchinson (R-TX)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)

From The Cultural Function of Lynching Photography:

A particularly poignant and singularly horrific illustration of this as a primarily white working and sharecropping phenomenon can be seen in figures thirteen- fifteen, a series of postcards of The Lynching of Jesse Washington from Waco, TX in 1916. The first postcard shows the mob, reportedly 15,000 strong, clamoring for a better view (note the man being held up by a friend, center right). The next postcard shows the horribly burnt body of Jesse Washington, a seventeen year old retarded boy accused of raping and murdering a white woman. According to news reports and eyewitness accounts:

. . . Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks. . .[he] was castrated, and his ears were cut off. A tree supported the iron chain that lifted him above the fire. . . Wailing, the boy attempted to climb up the skillet hot chain. For this, the men cut off his fingers. (Allen, 174)

As if this were not enough, the back of the postcard (fig. 15) reads: “This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.” (The cross is now an ink smudge.) Joe has been identified as Joe Myers, an “oiler” at car factory in Waco (Allen 174).

What was I thinking though. Of course there are Americans who have a problem with a simple apology for this legislative moral black hole in the past. Look at these Freeper comments.

Actual Freeper Quotes™ and more here:

“Beg pardon, wasn’t that illegal at the time *already*? This is an endorsement for the idea that Uncle Sammo has to create some special law for every thing that can go wrong. Then we wonder why we get things like a petty thief charged with 10 different crimes for the same act.”

“It’s seems to me that this lady [Doria Johnson, whose great-great grandfather was lynched in South Carolina], as well as the rest of us, should be more concerned about the days we live in, rather than dwelling on stuff that happened 150 yrs ago.”

“That same Senate that is going to “apologize” is busy everyday trying to figure out ways to tax us more, and impinge more on our liberty.”

“The apology pisses me off on so many levels. All the people who are mentioned in this past event are dead. There were laws against murder in 1916 so the senate did not need to have a special lynch law. Do not apologize for me because I refuse to acknowledge it. The senate is speaking on behalf of the American people because that is what they do. I was not hear nor was even one of my ancestors. Do not speak of apologies to anyone unless you are the one perpetrating the event.”

“I suggest we all write letters to our senators decrying our outrage on this issue. I will write my two pinko’s even though I know I will be pissing in the wind.”

“She is a serial liar like all the rest of these race hustlers. She was brought up to hate white people. I thought only white people could be bigots.”

“Lynching is murder…it is already illegal and, IMHO, there is no need to apologize for not creating redundant laws that would further clog up our legal system.”

“These Senators are so self-absorbed and worried about their image and the PC left that they have forgotten what their job under the constitution is IMHO.”

“This burns my ass so badly I cannot see straight.”

“This is getting to be ridiculous. NOW they’ll want money. Maybe I should dig around the family background and ask them to apologize for wrongs and right them with money too. They’ve opened the door for that.”

“Why was it necessary for the whole Senate to apologize? I can only think of one Senator who could have possibly committed a lynching. Wouldn’t it have been enough for Robert Byrd (D-KKK) to say he was sorry?”

The Lynching of Lige Daniels (1920)

“They haven’t apologised for mugging and raping yet. The Senate never lynched anyone. Most people never lynched anyone. This is ridiculous and insulting to african americans.”

“Oh come on! It’s just an apologize and they deserve to get at least that.”

“Yes it is ridiculous. It is ridiculous that white men today have deveoped such thin skins over losing a little bit of control over the US, that they can not admitt to being wrong even when it is so obvious to God and mankind.”

“While it is true that it is murder to lynch someone, it was considerd ok in southern states from the civil war until the 1960s. It is good that we are telling it like it is and apologizing for a very corrupt time in history. However, I think they should have made it evident that the democrats were the ones who lynched people and not republicans. The republicans however share the blame because they did not speak out and try to stop these atrocities.”

“This is a really tough issue for me. I believe in limited government, especially at the federal level. But when states refused to prosecute these murders, it corrodes or destroys the idea that states should be allowed substantial powers to run their own affairs. Unpunished lynchings were so shocking to the conscience of the nation that they’ve helped upset our whole federalist system of government — and I can’t be completely unhappy about that.”

“Isn’t “whites killing minorities” very rare these days? Isn’t “minorities killing whites” very common these days? This is why it’s so important to dwell on the past, so that it can blind us of the present.”

“If everyone will notice…it was only the senate…not the house, nor the president. There are lots of reasons why the senate is a total waste and worthless to the American people. This all goes back to 1776 and the fact that small states wanted equal power and representation of larger states. As for being sorry for lynchings…there are another 1,000 things to be sorry about concerning the last 100 years of American history…I’m curious if we will have weekly sessions or perhaps a committee of sorrow…to help speed through these sorrows.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding