The U.S. Senate Apology on Lynching

The following resolution (Senate Resolution No. 39) apologizing for the inaction of the U.S. Senate that could have saved countless lives was adopted by the Senate on June 13, 2005. Even though a majority supported the resolution (see list below), not all Senators lent their support to the resolution. 
Note: links to select news reports and responses appear after the text of the resolution. Select links to additional information on the subject of lynching in general in the U.S. appear at the end of the introduction in the left column. 
Lynching in The U.S.

For many African Americans growing up in the South in the 19th and 20th centuries, the threat of lynching was commonplace. The popular image of an angry white mob stringing a black man up to a tree is only half the story. Lynching, an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres. 

Pervasive Threat
Author Richard Wright, who was born near Natchez in southwest Mississippi, knew of two men who were lynched -- his step-uncle and the brother of a neighborhood friend. In his book Black Boy, he wrote: "The things that influenced my conduct as a Negro did not have to happen to me directly; I needed but to hear of them to feel their full effects in the deepest layers of my consciousness. Indeed, the white brutality that I had not seen was a more effective control of my behavior than that which I knew." 

Rise in Black Prominence
Although the practice of lynching had existed since before slavery, it gained momentum during Reconstruction, when viable black towns sprang up across the South and African Americans began to make political and economic inroads by registering to vote, establishing businesses and running for public office. Many whites -- landowners and poor whites -- felt threatened by this rise in black prominence. Foremost on their minds was a fear of sex between the races. Some whites espoused the idea that black men were sexual predators and wanted integration in order to be with white women. 

Public Events
Lynchings were frequently committed with the most flagrant public display. Like executions by guillotine in medieval times, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers and drew large crowds of white families. They were a kind of vigilantism where Southern white men saw themselves as protectors of their way of life and their white women. By the early twentieth century, the writer Mark Twain had a name for it: the United States of Lyncherdom.

Headlines and Grisly Souvenirs
Lynchings were covered in local newspapers with headlines spelling out the horrific details. Photos of victims, with exultant white observers posed next to them, were taken for distribution in newspapers or on postcards. Body parts, including genitalia, were sometimes distributed to spectators or put on public display. Most infractions were for petty crimes, like theft, but the biggest one of all was looking at or associating with white women. Many victims were black businessmen or black men who refused to back down from a fight. Headlines such as the following were not uncommon:

"Five White Men Take Negro Into Woods; Kill Him: Had Been Charged with Associating with White Women" went over The Associated Press wires about a lynching in Shreveport, Louisiana. 

"Negro Is Slain By Texas Posse: Victim's Heart Removed After His Capture By Armed Men" was published in The New York World Telegram on December 8, 1933. 

"Negro and White Scuffle; Negro Is Jailed, Lynched" was published in the Atlanta Constitution on July 6, 1933. 

Newspapers even printed that prominent white citizens in local towns attended lynchings, and often published victory pictures -- smiling crowds, many with children in tow -- standing next to the corpse.

Thousands of Victims
In the South, an estimated two or three blacks were lynched each week in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Mississippi alone, 500 blacks were lynched from the 1800s to 1955. Nationwide, the figure climbed to nearly 5,000. 

Killed for Being "Insolent"
Although rape is often cited as a rationale, statistics now show that only about one-fourth of lynchings from 1880 to 1930 were prompted by an accusation of rape. In fact, most victims of lynching were political activists, labor organizers or black men and women who violated white expectations of black deference, and were deemed "uppity" or "insolent." Though most victims were black men, women were by no means exempt. 

One Woman's Crusade
According to black journalist and editor Ida B. Wells, who launched a fierce anti-lynching campaign in the 1890s, the lynching of successful black people was a means of subordinating potential black economic competitors. She also argued that consensual sex between black men and white women, while forbidden, was widespread. Thus lynching was also a means of imposing order on white women's sexuality. Wells, who would later help found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was forced to flee Memphis after her offices were torched. 

Total Repression
With lynching as a violent backdrop in the South, Jim Crow as the law of the land, and the poverty of the sharecropper system, blacks had no recourse. This triage of repression ensured blacks would remain impoverished, endangered, and without rights or hope. Whites could accuse at will and rarely was a white punished for a crime committed against a black. Even for those whites who were opposed to lynching, there was not much they could do. If there was an investigation, white citizens closed ranks to protect their own and rarely were mob leaders identified. 

Violence Tapered Off
Violence against blacks would taper off during the second World War and rise again after the passage of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision that nullified the country's separate-but-equal doctrine. Armed with hope, blacks began to register and organize people to vote. Local NAACP chapters began sprouting up in small towns. 

Shock Over Till
When Emmett Till was murdered, the head of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins, lambasted Mississippi and called Emmett's murder a lynching. "It would appear from this lynching that the State of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children." 

The brutal slaying of a 14-year-old boy was shocking, and when the killers later confessed to the crime in an article published in Look magazine, African Americans and others who supported civil liberties realized they would have to organize en masse and risk their lives in order to bring change.

Source:PBS.ORG All rights reserved.

For additional information on what some have correctly labeled as among the "Dark Ages" of U.S. history see the following select materials:
  • The June 13, 2005, U.S. Senate Apology (text of apology also reproduced on the right on this page)
  • A brief introduction on lynching from the Reader's Companion to American History
  • A general introduction on lynching with background material
  • Statistics and reasons for lynching
  • Teaching about lynching: a curriculum unit
  • The Costigan-Wagner Act
  • The murder of Emmett Till
  • The lynching of Leo Frank
  • The lynching of 17-year-old Jesse Washington
  • The Lynching of Ed Johnson, and the Trial of Sheriff Joseph Shipp, et al.
  • Anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (bio 1) 
  • Anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (bio 2)
  • Petition to President William McKinley by Ida B. Wells-Barnett
  • American Lynching: A Documentary Film Project
  • Article: The Press and Lynchings of African Americans
  • Book: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America
  • Book: 100 Years of Lynchings
  • Book: At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America
  • Book: Southern Horrors and Other Writings; The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900 
  • Book: Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947
  • Book: A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of the Lynching of African-Americans in the American South, 1882-1930
109th Congress 
1st Session

S. RES. 39

Apologizing to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation. 


FEBRUARY 7, 2005 Ms. LANDRIEU (for herself, Mr. ALLEN, Mr. LEVIN, Mr. FRIST, Mr. REID, Mr. ALLARD, Mr. AKAKA, Mr. BROWNBACK, Mr. BAYH, Ms. COLLINS, Mr. BIDEN, Mr. ENSIGN, Mrs. BOXER, Mr. HAGEL, Mr. CORZINE, Mr. LUGAR, Mr. DAYTON, Mr. MCCAIN, Mr. DODD, Ms. SNOWE, Mr. DUR-BIN, Mr. SPECTER, Mr. FEINGOLD, Mr. STEVENS, Mrs. FEINSTEIN, Mr. TALENT, Mr. HARKIN, Mr. JEFFORDS, Mr. JOHNSON, Mr. KENNEDY, Mr. KOHL, Mr. LAUTENBERG, Mr. LEAHY, Mr. LIEBERMAN, Mr. NELSON of Florida, Mr. PRYOR, and Mr. SCHUMER) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary 


Apologizing to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation. 

Whereas the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ulti-mate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction; 

Whereas lynching was a widely acknowledged practice in the United States until the middle of the 20th century; 

Whereas lynching was a crime that occurred throughout the United States, with documented incidents in all but 4 States; 

Whereas at least 4,742 people, predominantly African-Americans, were reported lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968; 

Whereas 99 percent of all perpetrators of lynching escaped from punishment by State or local officials; 

Whereas lynching prompted African-Americans to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and prompted members of B'nai B'rith to found the Anti-Defamation League; 

Whereas nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century; 

Whereas, between 1890 and 1952, 7 Presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching; 

Whereas, between 1920 and 1940, the House of Representatives passed 3 strong anti-lynching measures; 

Whereas protection against lynching was the minimum and most basic of Federal responsibilities, and the Senate considered but failed to enact anti-lynching legislation despite repeated requests by civil rights groups, Presidents, and the House of Representatives to do so; 

Whereas the recent publication of "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America" helped bring greater awareness and proper recognition of the victims of lynching; 

Whereas only by coming to terms with history can the United States effectively champion human rights abroad; and 

Whereas an apology offered in the spirit of true repentance moves the United States toward reconciliation and may become central to a new understanding, on which improved racial relations can be forged: Now, therefore, be it 
Resolved, That the Senate

(1) apologizes to the victims of lynching for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation; 
(2) expresses the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching, the ancestors of whom were deprived of life, human dignity, and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States; and 
(3) remembers the history of lynching, to ensure that these tragedies will be neither forgotten nor repeated.

Additional Select Material Relating to the "Senate Apology" (S. Res. 39)
  • Proceedings of the U.S. Senate on June 13, 2005 regarding the "Senate Apology" as reported in the Congressional Record.
  • The "Senate Apology" as reported by BlackPress. Com
  • The "Senate Apology" as Reported by the Washington Post 
  • NAACP's Comments on the "Senate Apology."
  • Comment on the "Senate Apology" in the Amsterdam News (New York based African American Newspaper).
List of Supporters of S. Res. 39 
(as of 1:40 p.m. EDT on June 24, 2005)
Senator Daniel Akaka*
Senator Wayne Allard*
Senator George Allen*
Senator Max Baucus*
Senator Evan Bayh*
Senator Robert Bennett
Senator Joseph Biden*
Senator Jeff Bingaman*
Senator Christopher Bond*
Senator Barbara Boxer*
Senator Sam Brownback*
Senator Jim Bunning*
Senator Conrad Burns*
Senator Richard Burr*
Senator Robert Byrd*
Senator Maria Cantwell*
Senator Tom Carper*
Senator Lincoln Chafee*
Senator Saxby Chambliss*
Senator Hillary Clinton*
Senator Tom Coburn*
Senator Norm Coleman*
Senator Susan Collins*
Senator Kent Conrad*
Senator Jon Corzine*
Senator Larry Craig*
Senator Mike Crapo*
Senator Mark Dayton*
Senator Jim DeMint*
Senator Mike DeWine*
Senator Christopher Dodd*
Senator Elizabeth Dole*
Senator Pete Domenici*
Senator Byron Dorgan*
Senator Richard Durbin*
Senator John Ensign*
Senator Russell Feingold*
Senator Dianne Feinstein*
Senator William Frist*
Senator Lindsey Graham*
Senator Chuck Grassley*
Senator Chuck Hagel*
Senator Tom Harkin*
Senator Orrin Hatch*
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison*
Senator James Inhofe*
Senator Daniel Inouye*
Senator Johnny Isakson*
Senator James Jeffords*
Senator Tim Johnson*
Senator Edward Kennedy*
Senator John Kerry*
Senator Herb Kohl*
Senator Jon Kyl*
Senator Mary Landrieu*
Senator Frank Lautenberg*
Senator Patrick Leahy*
Senator Carl Levin*
Senator Joseph Lieberman*
Senator Blanche Lincoln*
Senator Richard Lugar*
Senator Mel Martinez*
Senator John McCain*
Senator Mitch McConnell*
Senator Barbara Mikulski*
Senator Lisa Murkowski*
Senator Patty Murray*
Senator Ben Nelson*
Senator Bill Nelson*
Senator Barack Obama*
Senator Mark Pryor*
Senator Jack Reed*
Senator Harry Reid*
Senator Pat Roberts*
Senator John Rockefeller*
Senator Ken Salazar*
Senator Rick Santorum*
Senator Paul Sarbanes*
Senator Charles Schumer*
Senator Jeff Sessions*
Senator Richard Shelby
Senator Gordon Smith*
Senator Olympia Snowe*
Senator Arlen Specter*
Senator Debbie Stabenow*
Senator Ted Stevens*
Senator Jim Talent*
Senator John Thune*
Senator David Vitter*
Senator George Voinovich*
Senator John Warner*
Senator Ron Wyden*
* Denotes cosponsor. Supporters were determined by those Senators who expressed their support by cosponsoring the resolution or signing an oversized copy of the resolution that will be presented to the Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America exhibit.
NOTE: As far as it has been possible to determine, on the day of the resolution itself, 19 Republicans and 1 Democrat refused to co-sponsor the anti-lynching resolution, but not only that, they refused a roll-call vote to avoid putting their name on the resolution. They are:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN) 
Robert Bennett (R-UT) 
Christopher Bond (R-MO) 
Jim Bunning (R-KY) 
Conrad Burns (R-MT) 
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) 
Thad Cochran (R-MS) 
Kent Conrad (D-ND) 
John Cornyn (R-TX) 
Michael Crapo (R-ID) 
Michael Enzi (R-WY) 
Chuck Grassley (R-IA) 
Judd Gregg (R-NH) 
Orrin Hatch (R-UT) 
Trent Lott (R-MS) 
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) 
Richard Shelby (R-AL) 
John Sununu (R-NH) 
Craig Thomas (R-WY) 
George Voinovich (R-OH) 

For additional information on the subject of lynching see materials indicated in the left column


All materials on this and all other pages relating to the Voting Rights Act compiled by