The Christian Century, July 26, 2005
“The Senate in June issued a formal apology for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation at any time in its history. Thousands of black men were lynched between the late 19th century and the late 1960s, and millions more were intimidated by the threat of mob murder. In that time, the Senate did nothing to end the practice. The House of Representatives passed several pieces of legislation making lynching a federal crime, but the bills were defeated by filibusters from southern senators. Segregationist James Heflin, senator from Alabama, said in 1930, ‘Whenever a Negro crosses the line between the white and the Negro races and lays his black hand on a white woman, he deserves to die.’ When proponents of religious expression in government invoke the Judeo-Christian heritage of this nation, they rarely consider the inconvenient question of precisely how the U.S. has acted or is acting on that heritage. Our history includes the brutalities of lynching. These mob murders were not even a source of shame for those who participated. The hanged men were often photographed with smiling white men and women looking on, as though attending a fair or sporting event. These photographs were often turned into postcards to send to friends–and, of course, to intimidate African Americans. In this case of public morality the Senate admitted a past wrong. In the language of the church, it repented.