Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) spoke Tuesday in support of a Senate resolution they are sponsoring that will apologize for the Senate filibuster of anti-lynching laws passed in the House in the 20th century.
“It was flat wrong and downright shameful,” Allen said of the Senate’s filibustering. “It is fitting that we introduce this on the first day of Black History Month.”
Allen and Landrieu were joined by Janet Langhart Cohen, an author and journalist, and James Allen, author of “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photographs in America,” at a press conference at the National Press Club. Cohen said she was there to “bear witness,” as a cousin of hers was lynched years ago.
“We cannot get justice, justice is out of reach,” Cohen said. “We know we haven’t always been a land of the free, but we are home of the brave.”
President Benjamin Harrison was the first commander in chief to request a federal law against lynching following the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in 1891 and the recurring violence against blacks at the time, according to a case released by the Committee for a Formal Apology.
“Unfortunately, the Senate prevented decency from prevailing,” Allen said.
Sen. Allen said if the Senate had taken action, it would have “put it on record as the Senate opposing lynching rather than condoning it.” He also pointed out that over time, lynching has taken place in 46 of the 50 states.
James Allen said the inspiration for his book came from a photograph he stumbled across of a man who had been lynched about 20 miles from his home.
“It’s important for Americans to adapt a visual memory of what happened,” the author said. “Tens of thousands of photos were produced. Where are they? They’ve been destroyed. It’s up to us to bring them back into our national conscience.”
During the press conference, Allen spoke of the utter violence of lynching, including gauged-out eyeballs, the use of blow torches and a mother who, after watching her son be lynched and tortured, scooped his remains into a box.
“I ask the Senate for a simple apology, and to express their sympathy with three little words: We are sorry,” Allen said.
The resolution is solely an apology for the failure to pass anti-lynching laws. There is no mention of reparations, and Landrieu said the resolution is “really more of an effort to get our country to own up to one of the darkest chapters of its past.”
Cohen said to her, reparation means something is broken or needs repair.
“It has often been said that black people need repairing,” Cohen said. “Well, we’re not broken.”
Landrieu said it is important for Americans to be “clear about our failings” as we “preach” to the world about the benefits of democracy.
Democracy “has imperfections,” Landrieu said. “If we understand that, we’ll be much better in the future.”
Sens. Allen and Landrieu currently have more than 30 co-sponsors for the resolution. Allen said they will try for a unanimous consent resolution because waiting for each Senator to sign on will take too long.
“If there are any dissensions, that will send a signal that here in my country, I am still at risk,” Cohen said. “So I’m counting on all 100 to come joyfully to give support.”
“We better darn well get unanimous consent,” Allen said.