The Senate is not the only powerful institution in Washington that owes an apology for the lynchings that took place in this country ["Repairing Senate's Record on Lynching," front page, June 11].

The article about the Senate apology included an excerpt from an 1894 Post article about a lynching.

The excerpt described the lynched man -- who, it claimed, committed assault -- as "brutal." It did not use any similar adjective to refer to the people who barbarically murdered him. Instead, the subhead called them "peaceable citizens." The article also referred to the lynching as "a short trial and a speedy punishment."

As Avis Thomas-Lester's article noted, these acts of mob torture and murder often were met with impunity and a lack of public condemnation. From the brief excerpt from the 1894 Post, it appears that the newspaper shared some responsibility for enabling these horrific crimes.




It is gratifying to see a shameful chapter of our nation's past finally given broad exposure and even more gratifying that two southern lawmakers sponsored the resolution to apologize for the Senate's repeated failure to pass a federal anti-lynching law.

While we are setting the historical record straight, however, we should acknowledge the contributions of the writer who did more than any other white person to awaken the conscience of America to the disgrace of lynching.

Albion W. Tourgee began pressing for anti-lynching legislation in 1888, even before Ida B. Wells, who memorialized him in her autobiography as the "Negro's best friend." It was Tourgee who persuaded President Benjamin Harrison to argue for making lynching a federal offense.

Unlike most whites, Tourgee recognized that the purpose of lynching was not to protect white women against black rapists but to "terrify the colored man . . . drive him out of business, compel him to accept such wages as the 'superior race' may choose to give, and cease to assert in any way his own manhood."




Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and George Allen (R-Va.) and their colleagues presumably meant well in introducing their resolution that the Senate apologize "in the spirit of true repentance" to the victims of lynching and their descendants for its repeated failure to enact anti-lynching legislation, but, frankly, both talk and Senate resolutions are cheap.

If the Senate really wants to show remorse, let it look to the Russell Senate Office Building, where Mr. Allen keeps his office. Richard B. Russell Jr., a senator from Georgia, was one of the most effective voices in the Senate in fighting off anti-lynching bills in 1935 and particularly in 1938. Trading on his image as a "gentleman," Mr. Russell argued that federal legislation to outlaw the mob murder of blacks, as well as other civil rights bills, "would destroy the white civilization of the South."

It has long been a scandal that the Senate's oldest and most prestigious office building is named after Russell. If the Senate feels the spirit of true repentance, it should vote to rename it.