Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

EDITORIAL>> An apology

The United States Senate, by an unrecorded voice vote, formally apologized Monday to the families and descendants of thousands of men and women who were lynched over a century of grim history. The Senate’s declaration of contrition for the lawless murder mostly of blacks might have been made for all of us, whose forebears said little and did nothing. But the Senate spoke only for the institution. Between 1882 and 1968 the Senate blocked more than 200 bills that sought to make lynching a federal crime.

Not all Southern senators signed onto this resolution, but we are happy that Arkansas Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor did, and they were eloquent about it. We will quote Sen. Lincoln:

“This was a moment in our nation’s history that was at odds with the principles upon which we were founded - a moment at odds with our future. When we acknowledge the misdeeds of our past and demonstrate a willingness to learn the lessons from those actions, we build upon the many things that unite us all to make our nation an even greater place to live.”

Other states from Texas to Georgia were stained by many more lynchings in that disgraceful time than Arkansas, but hate and intolerance were not absent from our midst.

The grimmest words in all our libraries can be found in the pages of the Arkansas Gazette where its reporters recounted with utter matter-of-factness the deeds of mobs and vigilantes from the 1880s through the Depression. The accounts sometimes were tinged with the excitement of game coverage.

In 1927, suspicion was cast on a young black man named John Carter as the person who had assaulted two white women at Little Rock. He was tortured, riddled with bullets, dragged through the teeming streets of downtown Little Rock behind a car and his body set afire on a pyre of planks ripped from a black church. One man directed the heavy traffic around the scene with a charred arm torn from Carter’s body. No one was ever charged.

Does it count as lynching when vigilantes slaughter hundreds of sharecroppers, their wives and children in Phillips County on the rumor that a black uprising against white plantation owners was in the works? That was in 1919, and no one was punished except a few of the blacks who escaped the massacre. The U. S. Supreme Court ordered them freed in 1923 and they were two years later. For a full and horrifying account read Grif Stockley’s wonderful book, “Blood in Their Eyes.”

No, there is no requiting those horrific deeds, none better anyway than simply acknowledging that they happened and being vigilant that they never happen again, neither on our soil nor in the prison camps run in the solemn name of the United States.