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Monday, March 2, 2009

US Senate apologizes for inaction on Lynching

by Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent


Source Jacksonville.com and NNPA
– The United States Senate formally apologized Monday for its refusal to approve any of the 200 anti-lynching legislation bills introduced during the first half of the 20th century, a failure that led to the deaths of at least several thousand African-Americans.

During that period, the House of Representatives passed three anti-lynching measures but the Senate, controlled by powerful, Southern segregationists, never approved an anti-lynching bill.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), co-sponsor of the bi-partisan resolution with Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-La.), says the resolution addresses what had been “a stain on the institution of the Senate.”

He explains, “This is a Senate resolution because it was the Senate who held up this legislation, filibustering it in the years [between 1882 and 1968] when over 4,700 Americans, predominately African-Americans, lost their lives from whippings or burnings, but mostly hangings. And the crimes took place all over the country, 46 states. But the Senate failed to pass even one piece of legislation that could have, in my view, prevented these unjust killings.”

According to records at Tuskegee University in Alabama, which has extensively documented lynching for years, nearly three-fourths of the victims were Black and 99 percent of those accused of lynching were not punished. By all accounts, Tuskegee was able to document only the known lynching; the deaths of thousands of others are believed to have gone undocumented.

The resolution states in part: “The Senate apologizes to the victims of lynching for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation; expresses the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching, the ancestors of whom were deprived of life, human dignity, and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States; and remembers the history of lynching, to ensure that these tragedies will be neither forgotten nor repeated.”

The Senate’s long overdue apology was laced with political shenanigans. Eighty-five of the 100 senators signed on as co-sponsors of the anti-lynching resolution. Rather than having a roll-call vote, which would have revealed the position of each member of the body, it was agreed that the Senate resolution would be passed by unanimous consent, a voice vote that does not record individual votes.

Those opposing the measure were conveniently absent and therefore cannot be accused of voting for or against the resolution. Not among the co-sponsors were former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), former chair of the Judiciary Committee.

The apology was prompted by the publication of the book, “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America,” by Hilton Als; Jon Lewis; Leon F. Litwack, and edited by James Allen. It is a graphic pictorial documentation of lynching across America.

Although the Senate failed to act until now, decades after lynchings were rampant, African-Americans, such as journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, launched anti-lynching crusades, placing their own lives at risk. The NAACP was founded in 1909 largely in response to the lynching of Blacks, many of whom were innocent or were accused of frivolous offenses such as accidentally brushing up against a White person or saying something considered disrespectful.

Lynching usually took place during the day in a festive atmosphere. Many were held in the center of town to signal to African-Americans what could happen to them and were often assisted by law enforcement officials. More HERE

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