June 13th, 2005
United States Senate Formally Apologizes for Failure to Pass Anti-Lynching Bills
Between 1882 and 1968, approximately 4743 people were lynched in America, and nearly three-quarters of those lynching victims were black. Lynchings were extrajudicial and heinous killings, usually intended to warn other blacks not to transgress racialized social, political, and economic boundaries. Victims often were hanged, but sometimes were shot, stabbed, or burned alive. Their murders ranged from community spectacles at which hundreds of participants ate picnics and took body parts and photo postcards as souvenirs to low-profile concealed murders involving as few as two assailants.
During the lynching era, seven United States presidents exhorted Congress to pass legislation authorizing federal prosecution of lynch mobs. Two hundred anti-lynching bills were introduced but only three passed the House of Representatives and none passed the Senate due to Southern conservatives' successful filibusters. In the absence of federal protection, and amidst the inaction of local state courts, lynchings persisted for decades.
On June 13, 2005, the United States Senate formally apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation. Resolution sponsor Senator George Allen (R-VA) expressed his regret for "the failure of the Senate to take action when action was most needed," while co-sponsor Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) declared, "It's important that we are honest with ourselves and that we tell the truth about what happened." Nearly eighty other senators co-sponsored the resolution.
Hundreds of relatives of lynching victims were present to witness the apology, as was ninety-one-year-old James Cameron, largely considered the only known survivor of a lynching attempt. In 1930, Mr. Cameron was sixteen when he and two friends were seized by a white lynch mob in Marion, Indiana, and both of his friends were hung and killed. Mr. Cameron was cut down and released. No one was ever arrested or charged.