The long, ugly history, regarding the lynching of Blacks in America was not formally acknowledged until 2005. Amazingly, there had been no federal law enacted to outlaw the racist practice, despite hundreds of bills that were introduced to Congress and seven presidents who urged lawmakers to pass the law between the years of 1890 and 1952. On this day in 1918, the National Liberty Congress of Colored Americans asked Congress to make lynching a federal crime.
White Republican Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer, appalled by race riots in St. Louis in his native Missouri and in East St. Louis in Illinois in 1917, proposed the Dyer Anti-Lynching bill to Congress on April, 1, 1918. Black leaders in the North demanded that the Republican Party presidential platform address the practice of lynching and make it a crime. The National Liberty Congress of Colored Americans’ record of their petition appears in the 1925 book, “The Negro Year Book Volume 5.”
From the book:
On June 29 1918 there was entered in the Congressional Record petition of the National Liberty Congress of Colored Americans petition asked among other things that congress pass legislation the protection of the Federal Government to all citizens of United States of America at home by enacting that mob murders be a crime against the Federal Government subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal courts for in the words of President Wilson Democracy means first of all that we can govern ourselves.
In April of 1918 a large delegation of Louisiana Negroes called on the Governor of the State and urged him to take action to put a stop to lynchings in Louisiana In December of 1918 the Texas branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People presented a petition to the Governor which read:
‘First realizing that the lynching evil has prevailed in this country for more than 50 years and that our present laws have not been able to cope with the crime of mob violence and as a result of same the said crime is gradually increasing which has caused general discontent and restlessness among the colored people;
‘Second realizing that your excellency is the governor of all the State of Texas we feel it our duty as a part and parcel of this commonwealth to ask your excellency to submit in your message to the ensuing legislature some remedy which in your judgment will abate and eventually rid the State of mob violence.
Although the Republican Party had sway among Black voters at the time, the powerful Southern Democrats, which controlled the U.S. Senate, blocked many of the bills from passing despite presidential intervention and three bills passing in the House of Representatives.
Although lynchings occurred less frequently after the inroads made by the Civil Rights Movement, the heinous act still took place. One of most recent and horrible examples of this is the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas.
Watch news coverage of Byrd’s horrible death here:
As mentioned earlier, a resolution was sponsored by senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and George Allen of Virginia, leading 78 other senators to apologize for the U.S. Senate’s inability to get the over 200 anti-lynching bills passed over the years.
Although the resolution was a noble step in the right direction, it puts focus on the fact that Black life had been viewed as worthless and expendable in this country for centuries. The inexcusable crimes against African Americans and the spectacle that typically surrounded their deaths are lasting images that cannot simply be pushed aside because of a gathering of lawmakers and their apology.