Monday, June 13, 2005

Senate Apologizes (Finally) for US Lynching

Almost 40 years after the last officially recorded lynching of an African-American person occurred--and I say "officially recorded," since many lynchings were never recorded, and periodic lynchings and brutal racially motivated murders have continued to occur across the United States up to the present day--and despite the House of Representatives thrice passing resolutions and the urgings of 7 US Presidents, it wasn't until today that the United States Senate finally approved a non-binding resolution that issued a formal apology for the 4,742 recorded lynchings that occurred between the 1880s and the 1960s. Descendants of lynch victims, as well as a nonegenarian survivor, James Cameron, came to the Capitol to share their family histories of lynching, and accepted the resolution.
According to the New York Times, this resolution was the first time in US history that the Senate had ever apologized to African Americans for anything. That is, in 229 years (if you go back to 1776) or 219 (if you pick 1789), despite all that has befallen Black people in the US, the Senate never once before apologized for a damned thing. Better late than never, I suppose--except that instead of a roll call vote, the Senate, taking the cowardly route, used a voice vote, which means that there is no printed record of how the actual Senators actually voted. And the resolution had only 80 co-sponsors, the chief ones being moderate Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and the repellent Republican George Allen of Virginia (he of the Confederate flag and nooses in his office!), though there are 100 Senators. So who were the 20 who didn't feel the need to support this non-binding, grossly overdue, utterly symbolic resolution? I have some ideas...and who took the truly slimy route and voted against it? Unfortunately we may never know.

Tonight on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, correspondent Gwen Ifill spoke with one of the leaders of the apology movement, Doria Dee Johnson, the great-granddaughter of Anthony Crawford (pictured above, F.S. Hays From NAACP files at Library of Congress) of Abbeville, South Carolina, a community leader (president of the Black Masons, founder of a farmer's union and a Black school, member of a federal jury, voter) who was lynched in 1916 after claiming that a white store owner was paying him five cents less (.85) than white farmers. As Johnson, the founder of Anthony Crawford Remembered, struggled through an obvious surge of sorrow to relate the story to Ifill, over 200 whites in Abbeville, after beating, stabbing and shooting Crawford, hanged his body from a tree, then ordered all 13 of his children to abandon their homes and property on penalty of death. Over 100 of his descendants were present at the presentation of the resolution today. Ifill asked Johnson "what difference does [this apology] make?" Johnson had some excellent responses, one of them being that if you didn't do this, "You have blood on your hands."

A necessary symbolic step, like Clinton's apology for slavery, but the rivers and creeks and gulleys, like the mountains and plains from Maine to Florida, Maryland to California, remain incarnadine with the blood of countless Black Americans....

Update: According to Americablog, here are the bloody-handed crew who refused to cosponsor--even after the fact--the symbolic lynching resolution. All but one are Republicans; big surprise! Let's also not forget that these are the people who just put Janet Rogers Brown, a horribly damaged Black woman who equates liberalism (which ended the legal segregation into which she was born!) with "slavery" and called the New Deal America's "socialist revolution" on the DC appellate court. Their contempt for Black people and Americans in general (no, make that humanity in general) knows no bounds....

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Crapo (R-ID)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX)
John Kyl (R-AZ)
Trent Lott (R-MS) -- Big surprise here!
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Gordon Smith (R-OR)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)
George Voinovich (R-OH)
+ Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN: he refused a roll call vote!)


  1. One of my co-workers said, "I'd rather have my 40 acres and my mule, but...."

    Thanks also for that non-cosponsoring "Role Call of Shame"

    This is a good step, symbolic, but important. And you're right about 'recorded' lynchings, or what we tend to call lynching. James Byrd tied to the back of that truck in Texas seems in lynching's neighborhood -- and I remember hearing about a young man hung in a tree in the downtown court square/park in Mobile AL back in the early 1980's...wonder what you call that!

  2. Hey Reggie, I agree with your co-worker, though we should put that on the list for Slavery, and ask for prime real estate (40 by several factors of 10) and more for lynching....

    I think what Byrd suffered was a lynching, and there have been others in recent years. In the 1990s, there was the lynching of a young brotha in Concord, California, and there have been several strange hanging deaths of black males in Florida in the last decade, haven't there? And then there's Matthew Shepard, to give another, very different example.

  3. When I went to see "Without Sancuary," at The Warhol a few years agao, I thought to myself, "Why am I here? I know this happened."

    I understood when I sat down to watch the watchers. The exhibit presented evidence which contradicted the cultural/historic amnesia wo which many White Americans desperately cling. This thought was validated by reading the comments in a viewers book. They expressed shame, outrage, regret, but most of all, surprise.

    Our White friends don't like to remember the past - because it makes them question their goodness and the goodness of those they love. Nobody wants to be connected to ignorant murderers, rapists, slave-owners or just plain racists. Yet, when we begin to examine history accurately - White people begin to see themselves and their ancestors in a less than pleasant light. So - they deny, forget, suppress.

    So - it is no surprise at the roll call. Because some today still celebrate their accurate past while others wish nothing more than to run from it.

    Thanks for reporting this John!