Tuesday, June 14, 2005

THE SENATE HAS APOLOGIZED to African-Americans for its failure to pass anti-lynching legislation between 1882 and 1968, a period of U.S. history in which 4,743 human beings were hanged by mobs -- almost all of them black.

In the first half of the last century, almost 200 anti-lynching bills were proposed, but none became law.

One of the resolution's chief sponsors, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., noted that the public nature of many of the lynchings was particularly disturbing.

"This was a community spectacle and the Senate of the United States knew it," Landrieu said. "There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility."

Better late than never, but, as Sen. John Kerry pointed out, "It's a statement in itself that there aren't 100 co-sponsors. ...It's a statement in itself that there's not an up-or-down vote."

Asked why the resolution was not put to a straight yes-or-no vote and why the debate on the Senate floor had to take place at night, Landrieu said she had accepted the conditions she was offered by the Senate leadership. She noted Congress' busy schedule.

Sen. Landrieu should be thanked for being the one to initiate this resolution; she was right to accept less than the full, unanimous support that she should have gotten for a Senate apology about such a clear failure to take action against such an atrocious chapter in American history.

Nevertheless, let it be noted that when it had the opportunity to wholeheartedly and unambiguously atone for a moral failure of historic proportions, Congress fell short; and to the extent that it fell short, the apology does as well.

"Someone is finally recognizing our pain," said Alberta Merriwether, a retired schoolteacher who is [the] great-granddaughter [of Anthony Crawford, who was lynched in 1916] and whose mother never spoke of the lynching.

Mrs. Merriwether's aunt Magdalene Latimer, 84, was not so certain about the senators. "I have to let God be the judge," Ms. Latimer said, "because I don't know if they meant it out of their heart or they're just saying it out of their mouth."

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