Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Missing 10

The Chicago Tribune wonders:

The U.S. Senate did something rare Monday night: It apologized for the past. The Senate apologized for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation decades ago, apologized to lynching victims and their descendants.

No legislation, of course, can truly atone for the estimated 5,000 people who were lynched in the United States in the period after the Civil War and into the 20th Century. But the resolution was at least a long-delayed acknowledgment that the Senate should have acted to rid the country of violent acts designed to intimidate and control African-Americans. The U.S. House passed anti-lynching legislation three times during the 20th Century, but the Senate buckled under filibusters by Southern lawmakers. Back then, the South was solidly Democratic.

Now the Senate has attempted to rectify that. But even with its action Monday, there is something unsettling, something incomplete. The resolution was passed by a voice vote because some Southern senators didn’t want to go on record apologizing for past sins of their people.

An expression of regret over lynching is controversial today?

By Wednesday, 90 senators were listed as supporters of the resolution, among them the impassioned driving forces behind the apology, Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and George Allen (R-Va.).

That left 10 senators, all Republicans, off the list. Among them, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, who represent Mississippi, the state with the most recorded lynchings.

“I don’t feel that I should apologize for the passage or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate,” Cochran said, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “But I deplore and regret that lynchings occurred and that those committing them were not punished.” Lott’s office did not return calls to the newspaper.

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) condemned lynching in a floor speech but didn’t cosponsor the resolution, explaining, “rather than begin to catalog and apologize for all those times that some Americans have failed to reach our goals, I prefer to look ahead.”

There’s still time for all of the senators to acknowledge the historic wrong committed by their body. Supporters of the measure can still express their support. They can sign an oversize copy of the resolution, a copy that will be presented to the traveling exhibit, “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.”

The exhibit is on display at the Chicago Historical Society. It provides a record of the shameful past. The oversize resolution will provide another record, of sorts, a record of reconciliation by many and, perhaps, denial by a few.

Well, now, you know you just can’t piss off the Confederate soldier veterans vote…