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Archive for the ‘Linchamiento’ Category

En este, el mes en que los estadounidenses celebran el mes de la herencia afro-americana, comparto con mis lectores este interesante escrito sobre el tema de la legislación que buscó frenar los linchamientos en Estados Unidos. Los linchamientos fueron parte de la violencia racial de la que fueron víctimas las minorías estadounidenses, especialmente, los afroamericanos. Casi 5,000 personas fueron linchadas en Estados Unidos entre 1882 y 1951, de los cuales dos terceras partes fueron ciudadanos negros.


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The History of American Anti-Lynching Legislation

We’re History   February 5, 2019

Onn October 26, 1921, President Warren G. Harding traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to participate in the city’s fiftieth anniversary celebration.  The Republican Harding, just seven months into his first term, was immensely popular.  But the speech he gave that day was soon condemned by the Birmingham Post as an “untimely and ill-considered intrusion into a question of which he evidently knows very little.”

What did Harding say that so offended the local newspaper?  After marveling at Birmingham’s industrial development, the President broached the subject of race relations.  Harding reminded the audience that black Americans had served just as honorably as whites in the recently completed world war, stating that their service brought many African Americans their “first real conception of citizenship – the first full realization that the flag was their flag, to fight for, to be protected by them, and also to protect them.”  He went on to condemn the lynching of black men and women and told the citizens of Birmingham that their future could be even brighter if they had “the courage to be right.”

Harding was not the first politician to claim to oppose lynching, and he would not be the last.  According to Tuskegee Institute statistics, over 4,700 Americans—two-thirds of them African American—were the victims of lynching between 1882 and 1951.  Lynching was a favorite tool of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups in the years after the Civil War, terrorizing black communities out of political activism and into silence for fear of their lives.  For decades, white southerners used lynching, Jim Crow laws, and voter suppression to maintain white supremacy and Democratic Party rule. After World War I, increased European immigration, fears of communism, and the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to major industrial cities in the North and Midwest led to increased instances of lynching.

Between 1882 and 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and seven U.S. presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal anti-lynching law.  Probably the most famous anti-lynching proposal was the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Missouri Republican Leonidas C. Dyer on April 8, 1918.  Dyer, known as a progressive reformer, came from St. Louis, where in 1917 white ethnic mobs had attacked blacks in race riots over strikebreaking and competition for jobs.  His proposed legislation made lynching a federal felony and gave the U.S. government the power to prosecute those accused of lynching.  It called for a maximum of five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both for any state or city official who had the power to protect someone from lynching but failed to do so or who had the power to prosecute accused lynchers but did not; a minimum of five years in prison for anyone who participated in a lynching; and a $10,000 fine on the county in which a lynching took place.  Those funds would be turned over to the victim’s family.  The Dyer bill also permitted the prosecution of law enforcement officials who failed to equally protect all citizens.

White southern Democrats in Congress opposed Dyer’s bill, and it went nowhere in 1918.  The next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) published a report that disproved the claim that most lynchings were of black men accused of attacking white women.  In fact, the report stated, less than one-sixth of the 2,500 African Americans lynched between 1889 and 1918 had been accused of rape.  Dyer, who represented a district with a large black constituency and was horrified by both the violence and disregard for the law inherent in lynching, determined to keep pressing his anti-lynching bill.  In 1920, the Republican Party included a brief endorsement of anti-lynching legislation (though not Dyer’s specifically) in the platform on which Warren G. Harding was elected:  “We urge Congress to consider the most effective means to end lynching in this country which continues to be a terrible blot on our American civilization.”

Dyer unsuccessfully re-introduced the bill in 1920, but it got a boost in late 1921 when Harding endorsed it in his Birmingham speech.  Harding went to Birmingham just four months after the May 31-June 1 racial violence in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which saw white mobs attack black residents and business and led to the deaths of nearly forty African Americans.  On January 26, 1922, the U.S. House of Representatives successfully passed the Dyer bill, sending it to the Senate.  But it failed in the Senate as southerners filibustered it, arguing that that blacks were disproportionately responsible for crime and out-of-wedlock births and required more welfare and social assistance than other minority groups.  In other words, stronger social controls—like lynching—were necessary to keep African Americans in line.  Dyer introduced his bill before Congress in 1923 and again in 1924, but southerners continued to block it.

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The Costigan-Wagner Bill of 1934 was the next major piece of anti-lynching legislation put before the U.S. Congress.  It was co-sponsored by Senators Edward P. Costigan of Colorado and Robert F. Wagner of New York—both Democrats.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt, also a Democrat, was hesitant to support this bill, primarily due to the provision it included that allowed for punishment of sheriffs who failed to protect prisoners from lynch mobs.  While FDR certainly opposed lynching, he worried that supporting the Costigan-Wagner Bill would cost him white southern support in his 1936 reelection campaign.  Ultimately, it did not matter much: southern senators blocked the bill’s passage, and Roosevelt cruised to an easy re-election, defeating Kansas Governor Alf Landon by over eleven million popular votes and an Electoral College count of 523 to 8.

Other anti-lynching bills came and went through the years, but none ever passed Congress and went to a president’s desk.  Even as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, Congress has still never passed an anti-lynching law.

In June 2018, nearly a year after the August 2017 racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the three current African American members of the United States Senate introduced a bill to make lynching a federal crime.  Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) drafted the bipartisan legislation that defines lynching as “the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person.”  The senators call their bill the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018.  “For over a century,” said Senator Booker, “members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror… we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”  The bill unanimously passed the U.S. Senate on December 19, 2018.  It still requires passage by the House of Representatives and a presidential signature to become law.

Though not fondly remembered by historians because of his weakness and corruption, President Warren G. Harding deserves credit for calling out the crime of lynching nearly a century ago.  Criticized as a small-town, backward-looking Midwesterner who longed for the easy days of his childhood, it turns out that at least on the issue of racial violence Harding was ahead of his time.

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