In the wake of the Edgar Ray Killen trial and the media spotlight on Mississippi, another tumult over race and politics boiled to the surface last week when the U.S. Senate passed a non-binding resolution apologizing for years of the Senate's failure to pass Federal anti-lynching legislation.
The special circumstances of the resolution were interesting for two reasons—one, it was passed by voice vote, instead of an electronic roll-call vote, which would have recorded each senator's position on the resolution. Second, the resolution was co-sponsored by 80 senators when it came to the floor, but a number of senators did not, among them 19 Republicans and one Democrat. After the resolution was passed, some of those senators signed onto the resolution as co-sponsors; at the writing, there are 12 holdouts, all Republicans.
Those Senators include Trent Lott and Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
According to an ABCNews online report, at least 4,749 people were lynched between Reconstruction and the 1960s, during which time the Senate could have acted on over 200 bills, including a handful that had already passed the House of Representatives. National media outlets have noted the lack of a co-sponsorship from both Mississippi Senators, as it dovetails nicely in their narrative with the fact that more lynchings (581, according to the Clarion-Ledger) were committed in Mississippi than in any other state of the union.
Reached for comment by the JFP, Senator Cochran replied with a written statement, saying, "I don't feel that I should apologize for the passage or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate," Cochran said. "But I deplore and regret that lynchings occurred and that those committing them were not punished."
Some say that Cochran's response are the words of a principled leader who feels, perhaps, that Senate resolutions are a waste of time. Those people are mistaken.
Senator Cochran, first of all, is not allergic to Senate resolutions, having presented and co-sponsored numerous during his tenure. He co-sponsored a resolution earlier this year that heaped praise on the people of Iraq for holding democratic elections (there were 99 co-sponsors on that resolution), and he presented a resolution declaring 2005 "The Year of Foreign Language Study." In the past, he has been a leading sponsor on resolutions including the "Arts Education Month" resolution, the "National American Indian Heritage Month" resolution, a "Greater Civic Awareness" resolution, the 2005 "National Home Education Week" resolution and a resolution declaring November 25, 1991 "National Military Families Recognition Day" (his co-sponsor was Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts).
Cochran himself says that this is a matter of principle—he doesn't think the Senate should apologize for legislation that it has or has not passed previously. He has, however, sponsored apologies to both Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II (in a bill that included $20,000 in restitution to each survivor of the camps), and he was one of six co-sponsors for a resolution that apologized to American Indians for their treatment at the hands of the American government.
Why not this time? Not for a lynching apology? That's extremely disappointing. Thad Cochran doesn't want to be on record communicating that he thinks the Senate should make this apology.
Lynching is perhaps the single most extraordinary and long-standing case of the Senate turning its back on core American values since the end of the Civil War.
Perhaps it's worth placing lynching in its context. Lynching—whereby mobs would serve as sheriff, judge, jury and executioner, often with police assistance and just as often on imagined or exaggerated offenses against Jim Crow—was an outrageous violation of the U.S. Constitution that was overlooked for a century by the United States Senate in deference to Southern race politics and black codes. As a legislative body, the Senate sure as hell should be on record as recognizing that amazing failure of the American system of justice.
What if this resolution did set some sort of precedent? If it sets a precedent as a result of the Senate apologizing for allowing mobs to overturn the Bill of Rights against certain citizens and hang them from trees, disembowel them or burn them alive—for offenses concocted or imagined—then by all means set the damn precedent.
Some detractors are correct—this resolution should not have been a "big deal," but only in the sense that Cochran and Lott shouldn't have been given the media something to pitch a fit over. Cochran—not to mention Trent Lott, whose rambling apology on Black Entertainment Television for his gaffe at Strom Thurmond's 100's birthday party seems a distant memory—is on the wrong side of this one. Cochran gets points for having the temerity to offer a thin excuse for his lack of co-sponsorship; Lott seems to simply be ducking the question.
Cochran's willingness to issue a statement is, however, nowhere near enough. If, in the future, there's a resolution that comes up that doesn't hold such a unique place in American history and merit an apology, Cochran should make his case then.
Fortunately, there's a solution—both Lott and Cochran can still co-sponsor the resolution. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran are both representatives of the people of Mississippi, and it's our opinion that they're doing a very bad job of representing Mississippians by failing to co-sponsor this resolution.
Call Thad Cochran's office at 202-224-5054 or log onto http://www.cochran.senate.gov/contact.htm Trent Lott's office is at 202-224-6253 or fax to 202-224-2262. The Senate switchboard is 202-224-3121.
Demand that these men sponsor the legislation in the name of Mississippians who agree that the victims of lynching and their families deserve to see Mississippi's current senators take the time to participate in an apology for past mistakes made by the Senate.
Good editorial. I couldn't believe Cochran has a "webform" instead of an email address. I'm sure they have gotten a few emails from us; but, I wonder what the word is around the state? What are other papers saying? The C-L and JFP are on record as saying "sign the darn thing!"
well, about damn time the c-l called for some credibility in the state
Eric Stringfellow wrote yesterday about Cochran's refusal to join the anti-lynching resolution.
Cochran, in an telephone interview Tuesday, repeated an earlier statement that he deplores and regrets lynchings, but he is not responsible.
"I wasn't in the Senate then. I don't think I should apologize for something I didn't do."
He also said he would have acted differently on a recorded vote. "I would have voted for it had a recorded vote been taken," he said. "There was no recorded vote. I didn't oppose it. I didn't speak against it."
True, but there is a major difference between what he did and what he could have done.
Cochran's explanation is double talk. If he was willing to support the measure with a recorded vote, he should have done the same on a voice vote. To everyday people, there is no difference. And he's in the Senate now. If members of the Philadelphia Coalition had followed Cochran's logic, justice probably would have never found Edgar Ray Killen.
Cochran and Lott should have been among the first to embrace the resolution, given that more lynchings were recorded in Mississippi than any other state.
Also, all, be sure to read the earlier thread, with lots of discussion, about this resolution that we started the day it passed (and wasn't signed onto by Lott and Cochran). Good stuff there.
Ya'll think we Democrats, as an institution, should issue an apology for all the ugly stains of our past? I can't remember have we ever apologized to the Native Americans for taking over the Continent? Have we said "Sorry" to the Japs for nuking a whole lotta innocent women and children? Well, if we have I don't remember doing so-- which brings up the most important point- the average Americans doesnt give a crap about some Federal apology. Please, leave your stupid apology in Washington. I'd much rather these pompus talking heads spend their time bickering over something that actually affects Americans- like a living wage for starters- instead of some empty "I'm Sowwy."
Cochran and Lott could have just voted for it, it certainly would have been the politically "right" thing to do because of all the recent media attention on MS, but I don't know, the whole federal- institutional apology thing gags me period. I think it is so over the top and political.
Ya'll think we Democrats, as an institution, should issue an apology for all the ugly stains of our past?
I'm not sure what it has to do with Democrats vs. Republicans. It's more about members of the institutions themselves passing a resolution, which, in most cases, isn't about saying "I'm sowwy" but rather about recognizing a past failure and making a commitment not to do it again. It's a "resolution." Parlimentary systems have used resolutions for quite some time now to express what that body will recognize as a guiding principle in its future dealings.
In the case of lynching, it's the Senate's historical failure to pass laws that would have restored constitutional rights of due process to the thousands of people who were lynched by mobs -- often with the help of law enforcement -- over a 100 year period. It thinks it's worthwhile for the Senate to be on record as understanding that was an extraordinary legislative error.
I can't remember have we ever apologized to the Native Americans for taking over the Continent? Have we said "Sorry" to the Japs for nuking a whole lotta innocent women and children? Well, if we have I don't remember doing so-- which brings up the most important point- the average Americans doesnt give a crap about some Federal apology. Please, leave your stupid apology in Washington. I'd much rather these pompus talking heads spend their time bickering over something that actually affects Americans- like a living wage for starters- instead of some empty "I'm Sowwy."
Cochran was a co-sponsor of measures to apologize to Japanese-Americans for internment during WWII and to Native Americans for their historical treatment by the Federal government. I don't believe the U.S. government has ever officially apologized for using atomic weapons.
I'd much rather these pompus talking heads spend their time bickering over something that actually affects Americans- like a living wage for starters- instead of some empty "I'm Sowwy."
I don't think they spent much time on it at all. That's part of the issue. :-)
- Todd Stauffer
Also, I keep wondering if Sen. Cochran, based on his excuse for not signing on to the resolution, ever feels the need to apologize for something he didn't do himself. As in, say, going to the funeral home and telling someone, "I'm sorry," for their loss.
His excuse is mighty flimsy on this one. I really feel sorry for him, in a sense. It must be some kind of prison to be so worried about the kinds of votes *this* kind of resolution is likely to cost you. Sounds like a sold soul to me.
OK, guys, this is another time something appeared to suck (right off the bat), but may have proved to be for the best in the long run.
"Lott, Cochran cosponsor cold-case bill" http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050707/NEWS01/507070371/1002
I really doubt they would be co-sponsors of this bill, which will hopefully have some teeth, if they had not gotten so much bad press and so many unhappy letters from constituents over their refusal to sign the highly symbolic but utterly toothless lynching apology.
So, I am finding myself happy that they did not sign the apology, because being backed into signing this bill could be very, very significant in ways that are not just symbolic. Yes! (pumping fist into air with happiness).