The media is paying a lot of attention to the recent bill passed in the Senate providing an apology for past failures to pass anti-lynching legislation in a timely manner. The apology was supported by all of the Democrats and the majority of the Republicans in the Senate, but 15 Republicans opted not to support it, drawing the ire of the NAACP and all sorts of critics on the left.
News articles report the inability to pass any of the 200 anti-lynching bills that were submitted over the years as a failure of the entire Senate, and supporters of the bill think it’s despicable of these 15 Republicans to not support it – after all, what kind of a person isn’t against lynching – but all of these outraged folks are overlooking the simple basic facts of history. Every one of the anti-lynching bills which failed in the Senate was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and mostly sponsored by Republicans. They failed entirely because of the efforts of the Democratic party to shut down any kind of civil rights legislations, a party position which lasted until the 1960s.
Out of 200 anti-lynching bills only three made it out of the mostly Democrat controlled House of Representatives, and all three of those failed in the Senate because of filibusters against them by Democrat Senators like Strom Thurmond and Theodore Bilbo who used the filibuster to block the Republicans in the Senate from passing most civil rights legislation until the mid-1960s.
While as a society we should all certainly feel guilty and remorseful that lynching went on, when it comes to those in government who supported and opposed lynching there’s a clear division of responsibility. While Republicans did everything they could to punish lynching, Democrats worked just as hard to keep lynchings alive. Is it such a terrible thing that those Republicans who remember that they were on the right side of this fight feel that it’s not really appropriate to apologize for something they fought against in the first place?
There’s no question that the Democrats in the Senate need to apologize for their party’s guilt in supporting lynchings, but perhaps someone should take a moment to applaud Republicans of that era for fighting the good fight against lynchings for so many years.
There’s a good article on the history of filibusters and their use to block civil rights legislation at FactCheck.org.