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Apologizing for lynchings

Posted by Richard on June 14, 2005

The Senate passed a resolution last night apologizing for its failure to pass anti-lynching legislation. The House passed bills making lynching a federal crime three times between 1904 and 1968, but in the Senate, Southern Democrats blocked the bills with filibusters. Don Surber noted that filibuster defender Robert Byrd had no comment:

But not one of these reports carried the name of Bob Byrd. Not one. The Conscience of the Senate was a no-show when the Senate finally apologized for being an accessory to murder. The protector of the Right to Filibuster was silent when the filibuster’s darkest days were acknowledged. The Grand Kleagle of the Raleigh Kounty Kavern was ignored when his organization’s favorite tool of terrorism was denounced.

But David Hardy at Of Arms & the Law is right. If federal anti-lynching legislation had passed, it would have been unconstitutional under one of the most abominable Supreme Court decisions of all time:  

In 1875, the Court ruled in U.S. v. Cruikshank that lynching a person (actually, a hundred people) did not deprive anyone of the privileges and immunities of national citizenship. (It’s relevant to Second Amendment history in that the Court also ruled that disarming people and preventing their assembly were not violations of the 14th Amendment, either). … 

It’s the Supreme Court that owes an apology, for Cruikshank has never been overruled:

What makes Cruikshank particularly appalling was that it arose out of the worst racial violence in American history. Sheriff Cruikshank had been a leader of a mob that attacked a group of freedmen occupying a courthouse, burned the courthouse to force them out, disarmed them and murdered over a hundred of them. … Under the Supreme Court’s ruling — this was no violation of the 14th Amendment and could not be federally prosecuted.

Highly relevant to this issue is my earlier post about Condoleezza Rice and gun rights. She remembers her father and his friends taking up arms to defend their community against nightriders in 1962 and 1963. Proving that, when push comes to shove, it’s better to be prepared to defend your own life and liberty than to plead with others to defend them for you.

See also David Hardy’s review of Negroes with Guns by Robert Williams. It’s the story of how Williams and other black veterans formed an NRA chapter, armed themselves, and defended their community against the Klan:

When the Klan came shooting, it soon found that its targets shot back. A Klan cavalcade (sort of a mass drive-by shooting) came to shoot up the home of the vice-president of the chapter, and found a number of members in sandbagged positions with rifles. After a gunfight, the Klan abandoned that approach (and the City Council, which had never done so before, required the Klan to get a permit for future appearances — this was in 1957, remember).

Sounds like an alternately chilling and inspiring book. And I just love the idea of a black NRA chapter in North Carolina in the 50s — so much for the "NRA is a bunch of rednecks" meme.

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One Response to “Apologizing for lynchings”

  1. Shotgun Shells Man said

    Love your story about Condi Rice. I never knew that about her or the civil rights movement.

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