The Senate's Apology

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

THE RESOLUTION adopted yesterday in the Senate apologizing to the victims of lynching and their descendants for the Senate's failure to pass anti-lynching bills could have been approved anytime during the past 65 years. For decades, presidents asked Congress to outlaw lynching, and nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced. On three occasions, the House passed anti-lynching legislation, the last time in 1940. And on all three occasions, the Senate, captured by southern filibusterers, talked the anti-lynching bills to death. With the Senate standing by, more than 4,700 people, mostly African Americans, were lynched between 1882 and 1968. It is tempting to say that the Senate's expression of regret comes too late. It is never too late or too untimely, however, for a great nation to remember terrible wrongs, and lynching was a crime of national proportion. Senate Resolution 39 notes that incidents of lynching were recorded in all but four states, thus having it succeed slavery as "the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction."

The principal sponsors of the resolution, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and George Allen (R-Va.), rightly contend that the nation must ensure that this history is never forgotten or repeated. The Senate was in a position to protect the victims of lynching, and it did nothing. Rather than stand up for constitutional protections accorded all Americans, it bowed to the will of a southern minority that argued it was forcing greater deliberation in the Senate, that it was holding in check the power of the majority, and that they, the filibusterers, were reflecting the vision of the Founding Fathers -- all while Americans far from the Senate chamber were being deprived of life, human dignity and the protection of law. It was that aspect of the human calamity that the Senate considered but failed to act on, and for which the Senate has now apologized.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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