What Should Follow the Apology?
When someone or a group has been wronged or ill treated, the offer of an apology is often believed to be a first step toward beginning the healing process for whomever has been wronged.
Healing wounds inflicted upon a person or a group is an extremely delicate and possibly formidable task, depending upon the nature of the wrong or ill treatment. A form of rectification, making amends, a companion to the healing process, is necessary to convey a true desire to 'set things right'.
On June 13, 2005, the Senate passed a resolution, Resolution 39, apologizing for the Senate's failure to adopt anti-lynching legislation. Over 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in the Congress during the first half of the twentieth century, with three anti-lynching bills being passed by the House of Representatives. When these bills reached the Senate, they were blocked by senators from the southern states of the U.S.
An article from the Washingtonpost.com states:
The U.S. House of Representatives three times passed measures to make lynching a federal offense, but each time the bills were knocked down in the Senate. Powerful southern senators, such as Richard B. Russell Jr. (D-Ga.), whose name was given to the Senate office building where the resolution was drafted, used the filibuster to block votes.
Excerpts from the Congressional Record show some senators argued that such laws would interfere with states' rights. Others, however, delivered impassioned speeches about how lynching helped control what they characterized as a threat to white women and also served to keep the races separate, according to records provided by the Committee for a Formal Apology, a group that has lobbied the Senate.
“Whenever a Negro crosses this dead line between the white and the Negro races and lays his black hand on a white woman, he deserves to die," segregationist Sen. James Thomas Heflin (D-Ala.) said in 1930.
In a 1938 debate, Russell repeatedly referred to a hypothetical lynching victim with a derogatory derivative of the word "Negro."
On October 2, 2007, a commission representing Tallahatchie County of Mississippi read a resolution and apologized to the family of Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy from Chicago, Illinois, lynched while visiting with his family in Mississippi, admitting it had not served the Till family as it should have during the legal process that followed the arrest and subsequent trial of the two individuals charged with the murder of Emmett Till.
The two men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, tried for the murder of Emmett Till, were found not guilty by an all White male jury. The two men sold the story of the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till to LOOK magazine, less than four months after their acquittal.
The resolution was read on the Sumner Courthouse steps, where the trial of the accused had been held. A marker was also unveiled to mark a point along the driving tour being promoted by the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, the commission having been organized by Tallahatchie County in Mississippi.
Emmett Till was but one of thousands of Americans of African descent to be kidnapped, sometimes from local law enforcement, and brutally murdered in a country where such actions were not viewed as wrong actions if the ultimate goal was the preservation of the system of White supremacy.
Neither of the above mentioned resolutions addresses any means of redress for the decades of miscarriages of justice dispensed to defendants of African descent, who found themselves in court, in Mississippi or the rest of the United States, who were denied their right to a 'jury of their peers', who instead were often faced with hostile jurors, who felt obliged and duty bound, to 'put a nigger in his/her place'.
Neither of these resolutions addresses any means of redress for the decades of misuse of state power to disrupt, discourage, prevent and assure that the rights of those citizens of African descent were denied for more than one hundred years after slavery and the period known as Reconstruction.
Neither of these resolutions address elements of systemic racism, established as parts of law and long held practices, like the state of Mississippi's State Sovereignty Commission, a executive agency brought into existence in 1956, whose purpose was stated, "to protect the sovereignty of the State of Mississippi... from encroachment thereon by the Federal Government", an entity formed two years after the United States Supreme Court ruled for segregation in public schools to end.
Mississippi's State Sovereignty Commission was a model adopted throughout the southern states of the U.S. These commissions not only sought to usurp but did usurp federal authority. They also acted as a 'body' to whom the grievances of its White citizens could be brought to have 'action' taken to assuage their concerns. These actions were often actions in the form of brutality against Americans of African descent.
The belief that affirmative action and African Americans, now prominently placed in 'high places', has erased all vestiges and manifestations of these problems is a characterization that does not reflect reality.
And finally, neither of these resolutions addresses any form of redress for the campaigns of terror waged against Americans of African descent, campaigns waged by those who held firm to the belief that African Americans should not be afforded the same rights as White citizens, with American citizens of African descent often forced into positions of resigned acceptance and in many instances, death.
Segregation and discrimination have been abolished on paper. Yet, the attitudes that allowed and sanctioned those practices have never left the realm of some Americans' psyches, allowing them to exercise their will through state power. It is the ability to transform one's racist beliefs into governmental power that gives power to racism.
America, since the abolition of the system of chattel slavery, has existed in a bit of a stand off, with the government realizing the need to allow those of African descent access to a system never meant to include them.
The U.S. has labored with the so called 'race' question but, there have always been those elements, that remained in or came back to the Union after the defeat of the Confederate States of America, that now found themselves in an America not of their choosing, not the land they and their fellow brothers in arms fought for, as the War Between the States or the Civil War came to an end.
A resurgence of anti-African American/Black attitudes and behaviors and a general blanket of intolerance has revealed itself in the past few years in ways that many thought lost to the past over one hundred years ago.
Ida B. Wells, born into slavery and who walked this land from 1862 to 1931, a fiery African American woman and crusader against the brutal American pastime of lynching, fought for legislation and action to be taken to end this barbaric custom.
Her grandson, Dr. Troy Duster, a professor of Sociology at NYU and Berkeley, president of the American Sociological Association and author of several books, including Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society and Backdoor to Eugenics, appeared on Democracy NOW on June 14, 2005, the day after the Senate passed Resolution 39.
He was interviewed and asked to share his thoughts, given his grandmother's historical legacy relating to her work against lynching. Below is part of the exchange he engaged in with Democracy NOW host, Amy Goodman.
AMY GOODMAN: Last night John Kerry spoke after George Allen and Mary Landrieu. And he said he wanted a vote counted, every senator on the record, yes or no on this resolution. Janet Langhart Cohen, the wife of the former Defense Secretary William Cohen, is a member of the group that pushed for this apology and also wanted them named because she wanted those named who were not willing to go on the record against the apology. How important is this?
TROY DUSTER: Well, I think an apology is a first step. I mean, I don't trivialize the apology. But I think if it's only going to be a moment in history that's forgotten, it's of not much consequence. What I think the apology might do, if it's done appropriately, is like a pebble in the water. If it spreads out in concentric circles to engage the country in a different kind of understanding of its history, we tend to be a nation with a memory of five to ten years. And so when people talk about things like affirmative action or Head Start, they tend to think of this very short period. So I think it's important to put the apology, to open up the consciousness of the nation to what actually happened in Reconstruction, what happened when the South went back to a period of complete domination: white supremacy. That conversation has not been held. The apology might therefore have an important function, if we use it as a device for reintroducing the idea that we need to repair this history.
What should follow the apology? Is an apology enough? It's a start. The next step for healing to begin must be rectification in the form of action, actions, if need be, through additional acts of Congress, that will guarantee all vestiges of past conduct, conduct at one time that was believed legal and all illegal actions, in the form of terror and murder, meant to deny and suppress the participation of any of the citizens of the United States in any way or prevent any citizen from receiving true justice, cannot and will not ever occur again in any form.