In 2005 Senator Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana and George Allen (R) of Virginia sponsored a bill in the United States Senate offering an apology to the victims of lynchings and their descendants for the failure to enact anti-lynching legislation. The bill passed by voice vote although initially 20 out of 100 senators declined to sign on as co-sponsors. After the resolution was approved by voice vote 8 of the 20 hold-outs made the decision to add their names. Between 1882-1968 more than 200 anti-lynching bills made their way to Congress (including the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill which passed in 1921, 1922, and 1923 in the House). Many of the students I teach in a course on the origins of the Jim Crow South are stunned to learn that 12% of US senators refused to co-sponsor this bill. A word cloud of the resolution makes it clear that the language was not opaque. The words “lynching,” “victims,” and “anti-lynching” particularly stand out.
In 1922 the US House of Representatives passed the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill first introduced by Leonidas C. Dyer, a Republican Congressman from Missouri in 1918. The bill was designed to make lynchings and mob violence a federal felony. Supporters argued that lynchings and mob violence violated “equal protection of the law” under the 14th Amendment. These crimes were to be punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both for any state or city official that failed to protect and prosecute those responsible for violence; a minimum of 5 years in prison for anyone that participated in a lynching; and a $10,000 fine to be paid by the county in which the lynching took place (which would then be distributed to the victim’s family). The bill never came to a vote in the US Senate in 1922, (and then failed again in 1923 and 1924) due to filibusters by white Democrats in the South who dominated by one-party rule. Note the words “assemblage,” “mob,” “death,” and “riotous” in this word cloud. The word lynching does not appear except in the title of the bill.
I’m attending a 2 week NEH funded Digital History Institute at the Roy Rosenzwieg Center for History and New Media at George Mason. I like to think of it as a digital history boot camp. This page will be a place of experimentation until I get the hang of it. Ultimately my plan is to create a blogging community for historians of the post Civil War South (or even post Reconstruction South all the way through the twentieth century). I’m still working on a catchy domain name for that project. I also hope to structure historycounts.net as a pedagogical resource for my students.