Washington D.C. - Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) today introduced legislation with several of her colleagues which apologizes to the victims of lynching for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation. Senator Mikulski said that while this resolution stands as a painful reminder of that history, it should also stand as a guiding principle - that we must always fight to protect the rights of all Americans. Senator Mikulski's full floor statement, as it appears in the congressional record, is provided below:
AN APOLOGY FOR THE SENATE'S FAILURE TO ADOPT ANTI-LYNCHING LAWS
"Today, the Senate acknowledges the dark side of our history. We apologize for a terrible wrong - the Senate's repeated failure to adopt anti-lynching legislation. This legislation is long, long overdue. I join my colleagues in offering this resolution as a way of saying how profoundly sorry we are that the Senate did not act decades earlier -when action might have saved lives. We also recommit ourselves to ensuring that this will never happen again.
"The horrific practice of lynching is a stain on our nation - and on our souls. There were over 4,700 documented lynchings in the United States. There were 29 documented lynchings in Maryland. These lynchings were public events, with members of the community colluding - either directly or indirectly - in this horrifying practice. It was no accident that they made them public - they were sending a message to other African Americans in the community. These crimes left thousands of people dead and families and communities scarred. Yet 99% of these murderers were never arrested or tried for their crimes.
"For many in Maryland, the history of lynchings in not an abstraction -it is the history of their family or their community. The Washington Post reported about a 1906 lynching in Annapolis, where Henry Davis was lynched on a bluff near College Creek just days before Christmas. There was George Armwood, who was lynched and burned by a mob in Princess Anne's County, and King Davis -who was lynched in Brooklyn, Maryland on Christmas Day in 1911. Many institutions throughout the nation have tried to document the extent of this racial violence - but so many incidents went unreported that we will never have a true account of how many African Americans were murdered.
"Billie Holiday, a Baltimore native, tried to capture the despicable practice of lynching in her 1939 song 'Strange Fruit.' Her career suffered because of the painful honesty of this song. Her record label refused to record it, and some of her concerts were cancelled. Yet Holiday's perseverance turned 'Strange Fruit' into one of the 'most influential protest songs ever written' and an inspiration for those fighting for racial justice.
"The Senate tried several times to put an end to this monstrous practice by outlawing it, but each time the measure died. This is a horrific failure that cost American lives. This failure will always be a scar on the record of the United States Senate.
"Today we apologize for this tragedy, though no action now can right this wrong. Though we acknowledge this dark side of our history, we cannot and should not want to erase it. We must ensure that it serves as a lesson about a time when we failed to protect individual rights and preserve freedom.
"This legislation is important in recognizing the evil of lynching and the failure of government to protect its citizens. It also stands as a symbol of our commitment to move our nation forward so we can truly be a symbol of democracy.
"Next week in Baltimore - we will open the Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture. It will be a proud day - the celebration of a strong and proud history that has made our nation great. This Museum documents the courageous journeys toward freedom and self-determination for African Americans in Maryland and in America. Yet history must also acknowledge this dark side of our history. We must educate the next generations about the proud history, and mighty struggle that African Americans have endured in the United States.
"Today, this resolution stands as a painful reminder of that history. Yet it should also stand as a guiding principle - that we must always fight to protect the rights of all Americans. This resolution acknowledges that the Senate was wrong when it failed to enact anti-lynching laws. But it also empowers us to move forward to do all that we can to strengthen opportunity for all Americans, to fight discrimination in every form and to ensure that we vigorously protect the rights of all Americans."