Sunday, June 18, 2006

Credit Where Credit Is Due*

While browsing my usual blog-reads this week-end, I stopped by Hysterical Blackness, as I often do (here) and read an account of a U.S. Senate resolution a year ago that apologized for that body's failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation even when seven Presidents requested specifically that they do so (see this site.) Apparently, the good Senators of previous decades preferred to filibuster rather than risk their constituents not having the freedom to attack and even murder African-Americans (and most particularly African-American men) at will without risk of legal consequences. I would most certainly have known about this when the resolution passed had I not been seriously ill and awaiting surgery last June, but even a year later, I'm grateful to find out about it now.

On the surface, it might not be immediately apparent to some folks why lynching needed to be prosecuted as a federal crime. But the fact is that, as long as states got to decide whether or not a "crime" had been committed, they seemed to keep deciding that it had not. And it wasn't just in the South either. One photograph most of us have seen, for example, was taken at a lynching in Marion, Indiana (remember?). It seems bizarre to most of us now, but it was often standard practice to take photos, turn them into postcards, and mail them out to all your relatives and friends to brag about your presence at the event in question, scrawling across the back of the card statements like "we know how to treat 'em here!"

So you can see how inconvenient it would have been for ordinary White folks to have to worry about some big time federal agents nosing around what just wasn't any of their business.

When Harry T. and Harriette Moore died in their beds as a result of their house in central Florida being bombed on Christmas eve in 1951, everybody knew the Klan did it in retaliation for Harry's work with the NAACP. And everybody knew who the Klan members were. Susan Carol McCarthy, who spent her girlhood around many of the principals, including Moore, recently authored a very intriguing novel about the occurrence entitled "Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands." Still, while the feds were chomping at the bit to do something about it, they couldn't--because murder isn't a federal crime and the state just didn't feel it could make an adequate case against the very important (and very powerful) "gentlemen" who formed the leadership of the local Klan implicated. You get the picture.

Anyway, so the Senate's long-standing unwillingness to intervene in this process on behalf of their constituents of color finally became more or less moot with the establishment of the concept of the "hate crime," but not before thousands and thousands of African-American men were horrifically and sometimes publically tortured to death, generally without any repercussions of any kind for the perpetrators. The official statistics are more than 4700 between 1882 and 1968 (keeping in mind that where no body was found, no lynching could be declared; lynchings are still occurring; and sometimes, such as in the case of Malcolm X's father, the death might be called a "suicide" in spite of the fact that his head had been bashed in and his body placed on a railroad track). Still, using even the very conservative figure of 4700, it averages out to about one per week for 86 years, with incidents appearing in all but four of the states in the union.

So an apology--at the least--was overdue and in order. And while many of the Senators didn't care enough to be present for the voice vote, for which there are no records as to who voted how, 89 out of the 100 of them eventually decided to go on record as co-sponsoring the resolution with Republican Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. I thought it only appropriate that the ten who decided not to go on record as co-sponsoring the resolution, under those circumstances, ought to get recognition for their...um...shall we say "oversight?"

It is true, of course, that it was a voice vote (and how very convenient of the Senators to give their brothers the option of an "out"--something the victims of lynchings did not receive). Consequently, we can't prove the following Senators voted against the resolution, which passed, in any case. But we know for a fact (thanks to this site.) that they were the only ones out of 100 that chose not to co-sponsor the Senate resolution apologizing to lynching victims and their descendents for not enacting legislation that might have saved at least some of their lives by establishing a clear expectation of sanctions for the egregious crimes committed against them. In alphabetical order, then, the Senators who do not appear on the list of co-sponsors are Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Thad Cochran (R-MS), John Cornyn (R-TX), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Trent Lott (R-MS), Richard Shelby (R-AL), John E. Sununu (R-NH), and Craig Thomas (R-WY). Just thought you should know.

*This post is dedicated to the memory of those unfortunate souls of color who died in terror at the hands of White murderers and to the victims' descendents who will ever bear the sorrow of that horrifying experience.

8 comments:

Piscean Princess said...

Thank you for this post. I am so terribly out of touch with politics that I probably never would have known this. I gotta keep coming back & reading the names at the bottom there, so I can at least recognize them in a headline.

Changeseeker said...

I thought it was kind of interesting that ten out of ten were White male Republicans. If you forget everything else, you could remember that much at least, right? :-D

Piscean Princess said...

Yeah, I'm fairly certain I won't forget that part!

Anonymous said...

it's things like this that keep rascism alive

Stephanie B. said...

None of this surprised me because the U.S. Senate is a deeply racist institution and the senators listed have either ties to white supremacist groups or have made racist comments in either past or present. Take Senator Robert Bennett of Utah, for example. He voted against every civil rights legislation in the 90s and have made racist and sexist remarks about blacks, women, and american indians.

To be honest, white america doesn't want to own up to their past injustices toward people of color, then and now.

Stephanie

Changeseeker said...

That's why I posted this, Stephanie. There are several names on this list I recognized immediately and the states they represent didn't surprise me either. Anyway, I was just trying to help folks get real about themselves. Not that I expect them to care, of course. But, then, maybe a potential voter will read this and take it into consideration. I was really a little surprised this particular post didn't draw more comments than it did. I appreciate you stopping by. Welcome back anytime.

Yobachi said...

Good work, glad to know that my Senator didn't bother to co-sponsor. Sadly I'm not too surprised. Alexander is retiring when this term runs out though.

Changeseeker said...

Hey, Yobachi. We have a whole slate of interesting "good ole boys" (and even a few "good ole girls") down here in Louisiana, especially on the local level. One of the things I've been working behind the scenes on just lately is getting a couple of events sponsored on my campus to encourage students to register and then put a face on some of the candidates so students will make it a point to do their part on election day. One of the interesting practices here is having elections for local and state positions a month earlier than the national elections. The result, of course, is that a couple of hundred (bought) votes can re-elect an incument with Alzheimer's Disease for another term. Sigh.