Op-EdOpinion

WILLIAMS: U.S. Must Face Terrible Past of Lynching

I don’t think anyone would argue that America doesn’t have a tragic history of lynching, and as much as some would like to think, that part of America’s history is not so long ago. As a matter of fact, some of us would argue that the potential for lynching is still with us.

In 2005 Dick Gregory, Mark Planning, Janet Langhart-Cohen and I began a project to change the names of despicable racists on buildings who had the stain of lynching on their hands and their calendars. We began with U.S. Senate buildings. To be exact, we chose the Russell Building named for Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia. Sen. Russell was a founder and leader of the conservative caucus. He served in the U.S. Senate for almost 40 years. He led Southern opposition to the civil rights movement.

We thought that our country had become more enlightened and once learning who Russell actually was, removing his name would be a breeze. Well, it wasn’t. Some of our most beloved senators thought it would be a bad idea with the most-often cited reason that if we removed Russell’s name, what would stop the removal of names of people we supported from other buildings?

Convinced that we were not even going to get more enlightened senators to support the removal, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Virginia Sen. George Allen offered an option that would seek to have the U.S. Senate finally apologize for lynching. We agreed to support that effort. For a long time, Mr. Gregory, Mr. Planning, Ms. Langhart-Cohen and I walked from office to office encouraging senators to vote for what finally became S.Res.39 apologizing for Senate inaction that could have saved countless lives. It wasn’t easy because several senators opposed the resolution.

Among those who supported the resolution by agreeing to be sponsors were then-Sens. Joe Biden, George Allen, Mary Landrieu, Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Diane Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy and others. Lynching was listed in the resolution as “the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction.” It apologizes to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation — nothing more; yet, there were senators who voted against the resolution. We weren’t even asking to make lynching a crime at that time!

Well, a few days ago, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) did take the next step and got that bill through the House 15 years later to make lynching a crime! It’s shocking that it took so long to do that, but even more shocking is the fact that Reps. Louie Gohmert (D-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and Justin Amash (I-Mich.) voted against the bill! The presidency of Donald Trump is charged with carrying out laws Congress decides and the men I have just named are responsible for making the laws! I have to wonder if their constituents will in good conscience send them back to Washington or will they vote “No” on them?

For more than 150 years, an anti-lynching bill failed in the Senate even though the House and several presidents had supported anti-lynching measures. Does this sound like the current Senate that refused to convict Donald Trump even though the House had proven without a doubt that Trump was guilty of the charges against him? Congressman Rush decided the time had come to make lynching a crime so he introduced HB 35 — named for Emmett Till.

If Trump’s behavior and lynching human beings are not crimes, we are a shameless nation and have no right to tell another nation what decency is. Now, let’s see what the current Senate will do about lynching.

Williams is national president of the National Congress of Black Women.

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