WASHINGTON—The Senate apologized Monday to lynching victims and their descendants, a belated attempt to make amends for what some lawmakers acknowledged was the Senate’s shameful 19th—and 20th—century history of blocking efforts to end the grisly practice of lynching African Americans.
With the survivor of a lynching and families of victims watching from the Senate’s visitors’ gallery, Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and main sponsor of the legislation calling for a rare Senate apology, spoke with an unusual visual aid. It was a gruesome 1930s-era photo of a black lynching victim hanging from a tree as a white mob, including children, looked on, with many of them smiling.
As a condition of getting the apology legislation to a point where it could be approved by the Senate, its supporters had to settle for a voice vote instead of the more typical roll-call vote where each vote is individually recorded. There was, however, no audible opposition when the vote was taken.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Senate’s only African-American, said, “I do hope that as we commemorate this past injustice that this chamber also spends some time however doing something concrete and tangible to heal the long shadow of slavery and the legacy of racial discrimination so that 100 years from now we can look back and be proud and not having to apologize once again.”
“There are more ways to perpetrate violence than simply a lynching,” he said. “There’s the violence that we subject young children to when they don’t have any opportunities, when they have no hope. . . That’s the kind of violence this chamber could do something about.”