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[From the Christian Advocate, Jan. 12, 1934]
WHAT WILL BE OUR LYNCHING RECORD FOR 1934?
This question is a summons to every patriotic American, to every lover of righteousness and justice.
I. A PAINFUL COMPARISON
In 1930 there were 21 lynchings, in 1931 13, in 1932 8, and in 1933 20. We have been sowing to the wind by glossing over the vile enormity of lynching, and have reaped the whirlwind.
It is the plea of the lyncher that an assault on white women must be met by a drastic remedy. The fact, however, is that less than one sixth of the 3,773 persons lynched from 1889 to 1933 were accused of rape. Lawlessness spreads to any offense that incites the passion of an unreasoning mob. Law'lessness is never a cure for lawlessness, but increases as a deadly contagion. For example, in 1933 one man was lynched for striking a man, and another for stealing liquor.
II. NAMING CRIMES ACCORDING TO THEIR REAL NATURE
An unvarnished portrayal of a crime is not a final cure, but it goes a long way when we can strip from an offense the covering of lies and expose it in its naked hideousness. To murder is to kill a human being unlawfully and with premeditated malice, or willfully, deliberately, and unlawfully. President Roosevelt expressed it forcefully when he said: “Lynching is a vile form of collective murder." Every member of the mob who lynches is a murderer. He is a cowardly murderer, since he allies himself with other murderous members of a group to commit a crime which he would not dare to do alone. The lyncher not only joins in the murder of a human being and makes impossible a fair trial and the weighing of evidence; he stabs his own, moral nature with a wound which never heals. He becomes forever afterward a worse citizen of society. He carries or his brow the mark of Cain and in his depraved heart the guilt of murder. If tine conscienceless wuite houdlum element are not cheked and dominated by the better element of society, it will mean the destruction of our civilization. They are as depraved and conscienceless is the guiltiest victims whom they shoot or burn.
They are as low down in the moral scale, as filthy a portion of the vile dregs of society as any criminal whom they lawlessly lynch. The lunchers not only lynch a human being; they lynch the law itself, which is the safeguard of all human beings. The horror of it is that in the South especially, the whites have control of all the machinery of the courts, and yet it is the native whites of the South who are guilty of lynching. With this mob frenzy, it has been estab. lished beyond question that several persons who were entirely innocent have been put to death.
The mob is a monster that throws aside all reason and moral sense and becomes as cruel as a group of devils. Any language which may be used is mild, for it is not possible to exaggerate in an arraignment of lynchers. The false taunt is thrown out that those of us who believe in upholding the law do not think of the crime which occasioned the lynching. On the contrary, we believe that, when proven guilty, the accused should receive the extreme penalty of the law. We are not in favor of a Negro, whether guilty or innocent, being seized and murdered by a gang of bloodthirsty white savages. Furthermore, when lynchers attempt self-justification by pleading the imperfect procedure of courts of justice, they may be reminded that in no case is a bungling procedure of the courts and public officials more abundantly illustrated than in their own escape from justice. If these white hoodlums were found guilty and received a just sentence, it would put the fear of the law in their debased minds and strike terror to their depraved hearts.
III. IMPORTANT FACTORS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST LYNCHING
A well-directed and cooperative effort should be made by various influential agencies.
1. The good citizens feel a sense of shame over the black record of 1933. The good citizen must be positive in his antagonism to lawlessness. He must be creative in molding public sentiment. The citzens who would scorn to join a mob, and yet who excuse and extenuate the guilt, are the enemies of law and order. The "good citizens ", according to Governor Rolph, of California, consist of the denizens of lowdives and speak-easies. If the better element of our population do not arouse themselves agressively against lynching, they need not complain that their fetish of State rights is taken from them and it is made a Federal offense. Take, by way of contrast, kidnaping and lynching. Kidnaping is mainly an offense against the rich; lynching is an offense against the defenseless. Kidnaping is primarily the effort to obtain money ; lynching is the lawless destruction of a human life. Any local community in the South would see that justice is meted out to the kidnaper. It has been impossible to get a local community in the South to see that the lyncher's obtained justice.
2. The press may become a far more powerful agency creating a better condition. The church press is outspoken for the orderly procedure of the (vurts, but it needs to speak more frequently and more vigorously. The secular press, with few exceptions, is on the side of law and order. It is strong in its editorial condemnation. But the press can do more. The press too often to state the features of the case which throw doubt on the guilt of an accused gives to the public mind the partisan statement of the pro-lynchers, and fails to state the features of the case which throw doubt on the guilt of an accused person. The press will give publicity to general resolutions to the effect that we must do better in the future, but do not sufficiently grapple with the issue that is immediately present. The press is prone not to pursue a policy that is too pointed and personal. The press should make a marked man of any public official who connives at lynching, and forever end his political career. I am grateful for the stand which the press has taken, and may be pardoned for intimating that they can do more. The press can also instill into the public mind the murderous guilt of lynching in the absence of any specific case, when the public mind is more receptive and dispassionate.
3. The officers of the law and court officials constitute a powerful factor in our lynching situation. We have had conspicuous examples of courage in the face of bitter prejudice on the part of public officials. There were 37 instances in which officers of the law prevented lynchings—6 of them in Northern and Western States and 31 in Southern States. All decent citizens will give to such courageous officers their utmost encouragement.
It must be said, however, that the humiliating failure to bring mob murderers to trial is traceable in a large measure to the failure of public officials. For political motives some of our officials appeal to the passion and prejudice of a low order of white citizens. In the case of the Maury County lynching, the sheriff, according to newspaper account, said: "No one in Maury County regrets that the Negro was lynched." This statement was made in spite of the fact that the preachers of Columbia, Tenn., passed a resolution of condemnation of the lynching. This sheriff slandered every good citizen of his county, and if he is ever again elected it will be a disgrace second only to the lynching itself. Another official is quoted as having said that these lynchers were good citizens. In the mind of this official, murderers are good citzens. Officers of the law, who have sworn to uphold the law and then proceed to connive at lawlessness, become violators of a solemn oath. They are traitors to their country in time of peace. Worse than all this, they become accomplices in gang murder, since they make it more possible and more probable that other lynchings will follow. Following in the wake of lynching is perjury, and Sheriffs and deputies have been known to become so blind that they could not recognize members of an unmasked mob whom they have known for years.
The last lynching of 1933 was the lynching of Cordie Cheek, a Negro boy 17 years old, by a mob from Maury County, Tenn., for an alleged assault on a young white girl. ('ircumstances surround the case, such as the reported fight between the Negro boy and the brother of the girl, and a reported quarrel between the girl and a married sister, which by all means demanded the calm investigation of the court. Why did not the officials of Maury County bring an indictment against the Negro if he were guilty? A dark blot rests not only on Maury County, but on Nashville, until this affair is cleared up and the guilty brought to punishment. Was there a collusion between officials of Maury County and the lynchers?
If the situation were reversed, and a white man were lynched by a mob of Negroes for an alleged assault on a Negro girl, and one of the Negroes of the mob should be positively identified and sworn to. and two automobiles should be identified, would we have gone this long without an arrest?
4. Again, tlie pulpit must speak in no uncertain terms in an arraignment of the growing menace of lynch lawlessness. People should be fortified in the quiet time against the crisis which may arise. There is a marked absence of any feeling of social responsibility in much of our preaching and church teaching of today. The individualistic theology of a large element of the Southern Baptist, Southern Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches should be corrected. A large class of our preachers should be reminded to let the Egyptians and Israelites have a good long rest, and also the sins of the ancient Amalekites, and to deal in a Christian way with our own social and racial problems. It is high time that we were dealing with the murderous crimes of "Americanites."
Preachers who condone or apologize for lynching turn the pulpit into a coward's castle and are unworthy of their calling; they should surrender their credentials and take their place among the renegades of society, where they belong. The church is not to estimate its success by specific ecclesiastical achievements. l'nless the church is the saving salt of society, it is failing. Unless the church saves us from our present perils, it avails nothing to recount ancient miracles and the glorious exploits of the past.
5. In brief, various other organizations, such as our schools, civic and business organizations, and women's clubs, may play a large part in creating a strong public sentiment against lynch lawlessness. Good use can be made of the country weeklies. Finally, we would speak an earnest word to the Negro leaders and preachers and ask for their wisest cooperation in making a good record for 1934. We confess an unjust discrimination against members of their race. At the same time these leaders of influence have something else to do besides nursing a sense of injustice. They should exert themselves to the utmost in urging the criminally inclined of their people to refrain from criminal acts, and specifically the horrible crime which gives occasion to the mob spirit.
Altogether we should work and pray that, as dark as is the record of 1933. we may strive with all the higher and holier energies that belong to us to protect 1934 from such a black record. Let us hope and work and pray that This dark night may be followed by the dawn of a brighter and better day.
Boston, Mass., February 20, 1934. Senator Van Nuys, Chairman Subcommittee of Joint Judiciary
Committee on Costigan-Wagner Antilynching Bill: Record National Equal Rights League as favoring Costigan-Wagner antilynching bill.
M. W. SPENCER, President.
New YORK, N.Y., February 19. 1934. Hon. ROBERT F. WAGNER,
United States Senate, Washington, D.C.: Republican Club, Twenty-second District, New York unanimously passed fol. lowing resolution, which it is requested be read into record of subcommittee on hearing on bill :
“Resolved, that the Costigan-Wagner antilynching bill be, and hereby is. heartily endorsed to the end that a fair trial and constitutional guaranty of safety be assured to every citizen regardless of race or creed."
JOHN A. BOLLES, President.
NEW ORLEANS, LA., February 15, 1934. Hon. Senators COSTIGAN and WAGNER,
United States Senate, Washington, D.C. HONORABLE SIRS: Whereas we, the officers and members of Winter Capitol Lodge of Elks of the I.B.P.O.E.W., located in New Orleans, La., deem the passage of the Federal antilynching bill of the utmost importance to the welfare of America in our race; and
Whereas the ('ostigan and Wagner Federal antilynching bill embraces our ideas of citizens' rights and protection as provided by the Constitution of the United States; be it
Resolved. That we, the officers and members of Winter Capitol Lodge of Elks of I.B.P.O.E.W., endorse the Federal antilynching bill as proposed by Senators Costigan and Wagner and we do urge and implore the august Seventy-third Congress of the United States of America to pass said bill while in session. Most respectfully yours,
W. T. MEADE GRANT, JR., Exalted Ruler.
OMEGA Psi PHI FRATERNITY,
Washington, D.C., January 24, 1934. Hon. EDWARD P. COSTIGAN,
The Senate, Washington, D.C. SIR: The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity wishes to submit the following resolution on lynching:
"Whereas lynching has become a national menace and blot on American civilization, and further is a violation of all the tenets of Christianity, moral and civil law, and of the Constitution of the United States; and
“Whereas those charged with the enforcement of the laws of the several States have been lax in their duty to protect the lives of their citizens when threatened by mob violence; and
“Whereas the problem has become most grave in all sections of the United States : Therefore be it
" Resolved, That the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, representing a group of over 3,000 college men, does hereby petition the several Senators of the United States at this session of Congress to enact such legislation as will eradicate lynching from every State and city in our Nation and further will adequately protect the lives of its citizens when threatened by mobs, bent on taking the law in their own hands and usurping the functions of the courts, the guardians of our laws, liberties, and lives.” We have the honor to remain, most respectfully yours,
LAWRENCE A. OXLEY,.
Basileus. J. ARTHUR WEISEGER,
Grand Keeper of Records and Seals. JAW:W
Kane, Pa., January 26, 1934. Senator EDWARD D. COSTIGAN,
Washington, D.C. HONORABLE SIR: We urge swift passage of the Costigan-Wagner antilynching bill.
President Roosevelt has vigorously denounced lynching in his recent message on the “more abundant life.” He reemphasized this in his opening message to you. We welcome his aggressive spiritual leadership.
A Federal antilynching law is just as necessary as a Federal law against kidnaping.
We hope that any suggestion of sectionalism will be removed by introduction of the bill into the House by a southern Representative.
Americans should not forget that Thomas Jefferson wrote into the Declaration of Independence that all men are entitled to “ life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
We affirm our deep spiritual conviction that all men are children of a common Father; that there therefore can be no distinction between brothers irrespective of race, creed, color, or class.
State law enforcement has broken down under the pressure of lower moral standards resulting from the war. Therefore a Federal law is necessary to protect some of our citizens from violence.
We urge your vigorous support in the light of your highest conviction.
COMMITTEE FOR THE ABOLITION OF LYNCHING,
Joint Chairmen. (Whereupon, at 5:30 p.m., the subcommittee recessed, subject to the call of the chairman.)