Washington DC - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid delivered the following statement on the Senate’s Anti-Lynching Resolution today on the Senate floor.
Remarks as prepared:
Mr. President, in this Body’s two centuries of history, we’ve have done many great things. Sent men to the moon. Created schools for our kids. Fed the hungry. And extended a helping hand to struggling families.
But today, I rise to speak about one of this institution’s great failures – - its shameful refusal to enact anti-lynching legislation in the first half of the 20th Century.
Today, one of the saddest chapters in our Chamber’s history will come to a close when we apologize for the Senate’s inaction. I join my colleagues in apologizing to the deceased victims of lynchings and their surviving loved ones, and I pray this Chamber will never fail to see justice done again.
While the exact number is impossible to determine, best records indicate that since 1882, 4,749 individuals have died from lynching – - 3,452 of them African Americans.
These Americans were killed, tortured, mutilated and maimed with near impunity. Many were innocent. Most were denied due process under the law. And their killers rarely faced consequences for their actions.
The Senate’s inaction helped create a culture of acceptance towards these heinous crimes against humanity.
Photos from the book “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America” show men, women and children donning their finest clothing and gleefully posing in front of deceased – - often mutilated – – corpses. Even worse, many photos were turned into postcards until 1908 when the Senate at least amended U.S. Postal Service regulations to forbid the mailing of lynching photographs made into postcards.
American history is rich with stories of heroes and heroines as well as patriots and patriotism; however, the lynching of so many Americans will always be a stain on our democracy.
Only after the passage of time…
Only after ever growing pressure from civil rights organizations…
Only after over 200 anti-lynching bills, condemnation in foreign nations, petitions from 7 U.S. Presidents, and outcry from the African American press and some mainstream publications did the occurrence of this horrible act decline.
It is my sincere hope that the relatives of the victims of these horrible acts will accept this Body’s sincere apology and take some solace in the Senate finally recognizing its shortcomings.
It is also my sincere hope that the Senate does not stop with this apology.
There is more work to be done. We can honor the legacy of these victims by continuing to confront the challenges in civil rights before us and enacting legislation that will protect voting rights and improve the lives of so many Americans.
First, I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand strong in support of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.
Second, disparities between African Americans and whites in health care and education are still too great. I encourage this Body to support legislation that will improve health care among African Americans, improve educational resources and provide additional opportunities for African Americans as well.
In closing Mr. President, I ask that the families of the victims of these heinous crimes accept the Senate’s apology, and I pray that my colleagues will act positively on upcoming legislation that will honor the souls of those passed and that they may finally rest in peace.