Senate Apologizes for Failure to Pass Anti-Lynching Legislation in Early-1900s

Cantwell: Senate must use unity from vote to address important issues facing America

WASHINGTON , D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) this evening applauded the Senate's unanimous support for a resolution that apologizes to victims of lynching. Recognizing the Senate's failure to pass anti-lynching legislation during the first half of the 20 th century, the resolution also expresses sympathy to victims' families, and notes that America should never forget the horrific crimes.

Cantwell, who co-sponsored the resolution along with 76 other senators, sees the apology as an important statement on behalf of the institution of the Senate.

"This apology does not rectify the Senate's previous inaction, nor should it fully ease the lingering pain caused by these preventable tragedies," Cantwell said. "The apology, however, is an important statement about what the Senate can become if we work together to solve America's problems, and an important reminder that indifference to those problems is inexcusable."

Cantwell continued, "My hope is that the Senate will remember these heinous crimes, and the unity with which we condemn them today, when considering other legislation important to minorities in America . This Senate needs to address unemployment discrimination, end school funding inequalities, make sure every American has health insurance, and get serious about workforce investment. Improving the lives of Americans today is the best way to apologize for the past."

It is estimated that between 1882 and 1968, over 4,700 Americans were lynched, but the Senate passed no laws during those years making it a federal crime.


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.

Whereas the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate 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.

# # #