Much Too Little and Far Too Late Senate apologizes for lynching.
But does it mean anything? by Peggy Butler
It was 123 years in the making. A crime so heinous many
deny its authenticity. And refer to it as a tale told by
pessimists fill with anger and disgust, symbolizing
terror. But alas it happened.
It began oddly in 1882, when Whites decided that Negroes
were less than human, and felt it was in their moral
latitude to hang them from trees until they were dead.
Thus began the era of lynching.
According to Tuskegee University statistics, this practice
lasted for 123 years, ending in 1968. Experts maintain all
states with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut,
Massachusetts and New Hampshire experienced at least
one lynching. But it was in the Deep South where the
majority of lynchings took place. Leading the fray was
Mississippi (539); Georgia (492); Louisiana (391); Texas
(352); Alabama (299); Florida (257); Arkansas (226);
Tennessee (204); South Carolina (156) and Kentucky (142).
During its duration, 3,446 African-Americans were lynched.
So common was lynching, it prompted Abel Meeropol, an
English teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx,
to write a song tiled "Strange Fruit" made famous by the
legendary Billie Holiday. The song became the anthem of
anti-lynching throughout the United States, as the murders
Through out the years, 200 anti-lynching bills were
introduced in Congress with three passing. However, southern
Democrats refused to act, rendering the bill useless.
Moreover, despite its knowledge of lynching, the federal
government never issued a formal apology. But to their
credit, seven presidents lobbied for an anti-lynching
bill, all to no avail. Yet, regardless of the bleak
outlook, many African-Americans thought an apology was
imminent, if not in the 20th century, then perhaps in the
And they were right. Finally on June 13, 2005 the lone
lynching survivor and survivors of victims received an
apology from the Senate. Standing behind a lectern, her
mood mirroring the mood of the occasion, Sen. Mary Landrieu,
D-La., co-sponsor of the bill along with Sen.George
Allen, R-Va., noted the disturbing nature of lynchings and
the role the Senate played in its continunance.
"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." To the average American it
appeared that everyone in the Senate approved the bill
that made the apology possible. Not surprisingly 19
Republicans and 1 Democrat refused to support the bill.
Because of that, I was neither impressed nor moved to tears
by the poignant ceremony.
And as I watched James Cameron, the only living survivor of
a lynching attempt, it struck me that what happened to him
and thousands of others cannot be corrected with an
apology, no matter how sincere the gesture. Because an
apology cannot erase the fact that for 119 years Blacks were
hung from trees, as White onlookers laughed and pointed.
Imagine how they felt as the rope dug deeper and deeper into
their throats extinguishing the last gasps of life, as
death reared its ugly head. To reiterate, an apology cannot
erase decades of pain, torment and agony. Likewise, an
apology cannot being back the people who died, reportedly 3,
446 but according to historians that figure could be
That is why I'm in favor of taking the apology a step
further. From where I sit it would have been more fitting
if the people who participated in the lynchings and are
still alive apologized. Let the bigots who observed or
participated in the actual lynching say "I'm sorry." So
what if they're old. Do you think age should be a deterrent
for what they did? Absolutely not. Since cruelty is NOT
limited to one's date of birth.
To counteract my point of view, many observers argue there
is no honor in making the participants or onlookers
apologize. And to them I say, is there any point in the
Senate making an emotional statement that should have been
delivered decades ago? And why now? What prompted the
apology? Was it guilt or post-traumatic remorse? Is this
America's way of correcting a wrong?
Thirty seven years after the last lynching was reported
(although there have been more since then) America is
forever guilty in the eyes of Blacks who know first hand
the depth of this county's racist depravity. First they
enslaved us and later lynched us. Anyway you look at it, an
apology at this stage is much too little and far too late.