June 13, 2005 -- -- The U.S. Senate formally apologized this evening for its role in one of the darkest chapters of American history.
At least 4,749 Americans are known to have been lynched during a time when the Senate failed to act on some 200 anti-lynching bills.
"The Senate has more than blood on their hands by not stopping it," said Jimmy Allen, editor of Without Sanctuary, a collection of lynching photographs that helped to spur the Senate resolution.
The resolution, initially introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. George Allen, R-Va., apologizes to the victims and their descendants "for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation."
To the surprise and outrage of the resolution's supporters, more than a dozen senators declined to sign on as co-sponsors. Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., did not require a roll-call vote on the resolution and scheduled debate to begin after normal working hours.
With nearly 200 descendants of lynching victims observing the proceedings from the visitors' gallery, the Senate approved the measure by voice vote late today.
The Senate apology means a lot for at least one family in Abbeville, S.C.
It was in the Abbeville town square in 1916 that Anthony Crawford, a prosperous black farmer, was lynched by a mob of several hundred.
"For the Crawford family, it's generations of pain," said Crawford's great-granddaughter Doria Johnson of Evanston, Ill. "Grandpa Crawford's blood has never dried," she said.
According to family members, Crawford had refused to accept the price offered for his cotton seed, and he had dared to talk back to the white storekeeper.
He was taken into custody and then taken from the county jail by a mob of an estimated 200 to 300 people. "He was dragged around the square several times and then out to the fairgrounds where he was lynched and shot," said great-grandson Phillip Crawford of Abbeville.
Today's Senate apology had its own share of trouble getting to the floor. Among the senators who declined to co-sponsor the resolution were Mississippi Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both Republicans. Cochran said he would not vote against it, but would not be present to vote for it.
Supporters expressed their outrage at the senators who would not sign on as co-sponsors.
"America is home of the brave but I'm afraid there may be a few cowards who have to cower to their very narrow-minded and backward, hateful constituency," said Janet Cohen, who is the descendant of a lynching victim in Kentucky. Her husband, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, was also a former Republican senator.
Cohen has been pushing for a roll-call vote so the names of the holdout senators will be known to the public. Frist declined her request.
"They're hiding out," said Cohen, "and it's reminiscent of a pattern of hiding out under a hood, in the night, riding past, scaring people."