Impact of Senate's Apology for Legacy of Lynching
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.
More than 4,000 lynchings took place in the United States between 1882 and 1968. Men and women, mostly black, were kidnapped from their homes or town streets and brutally murdered. Usually these victims had no protection against the mobs who came to kill or just watch the killing. Police and government did nothing until now. On Monday night, the US Senate passed a resolution apologizing for failing to stop the lynchings. Literally hundreds of anti-lynching proposals were brought to Congress, but none passed. This week, victims' family members and at least one lynching survivor gathered in Washington. Among them, Doria Dee Johnson, who traveled from Evanston, Illinois, to witness the voice vote passage of the Senate resolution. Johnson's great-great-grandfather, Anthony Crawford, was lynched in 1916 in Abbeville, South Carolina.
We're also joined by phone by Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas. He's been an enthusiastic supporter of this resolution.
Welcome, Ms. Johnson and Senator Pryor.
Senator MARK PRYOR (Democrat, Arkansas): Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Ms. DORIA DEE JOHNSON (Relative of Lynching Victim): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So, Doria, tell us who Anthony P. Crawford was and how you became determined to seek justice for this man that you didn't even get to meet.
Ms. JOHNSON: Yeah. The determination had been passed on for generations that we tell his story, but he was a very special farmer in South Carolina during post-Civil War Reconstruction, had--he was able to gather 427 acres of prime cotton land, a very successful businessman and community leader.
CHIDEYA: There are studies of lynchings in America that show that so many of the men who were lynched in particular were business owners, were people who seemed to be a threat to the white establishment. Do you believe this was the case with your relative?
Ms. JOHNSON: Yes, we're sure of that. He wanted to keep his dignity.
CHIDEYA: And, Senator Pryor, let me go to you. You took this issue to your constituents, and you've been very outspoken about why the Senate needed to apologize for these lynchings, but not all senators signed on to this resolution, and some didn't want there to be anything but a voice vote, because--why do you think this was?
Sen. PRYOR: I can't really say. I was not party to any of those conversations. But I do know that the sponsors were pressing for a recorded vote, and even possibly a little more time on the floor, and I'm not trying to point fingers, but the majority leader, for whatever reason at the end of the process, said we could have a voice vote and a limited time for debate on this. So I thought that was unfortunate, but I do think the symbolism here is very strong, that the United States Senate has now come, after, I think, close to 200 attempts, has now come with a sincere apology and regret through a resolution, and really an apology to the victims and the descendants of those victims, to say that we had a chance to act when the chips were down and we chose not to act. And we had a chance to make America better and we chose not to do that, so we regret that, and we offer our sincere apologies for that.
CHIDEYA: What kinds of responses are you getting from your constituents in Arkansas?
Sen. PRYOR: The responses have actually been very good. You know, Arkansas is a Southern state, of course, and we had a number of lynchings. It's hard to tell exactly from the historical data, as you well know, because many of these were unreported. Many of these, there was complicity with sometimes the press, but oftentimes with the local governments, even maybe in some cases state government, and so sometimes these were either ignored or sort of swept under the rug. But then there are other examples where they were wildly exaggerated. And so it's hard to know exactly what the numbers were. We do know that we have some in Arkansas. Arkansas probably, in all likelihood, was not one of the chief offenders in the South, but I think these happened in every state in the union except for four, and they were not limited to the black population, although African-Americans probably suffered three-quarters of the injustice here. But lynchings were, unfortunately, a dark chapter in American history that went on for decades, and I think it's important that we do apologize for that.
CHIDEYA: Doria, let me go back to you. You have gotten this apology now from the federal government, but your family had land and property that I believe you lost after your great-great-grandfather was lynched. Do you have any plans, now that you have gotten this apology, to try to pursue some kind of financial recourse?
Ms. JOHNSON: Yes, ma'am, we do. We want Grandpa's property back. The last thing he said was, `Give my bankbook to my children.' We took that to be the mantra that he wanted us to have his property.
CHIDEYA: Now, Senator Pryor, let me direct this to you. A lot of people have been concerned about apologies for slavery saying, `Oh, if you apologize for that, then the federal government will have to compensate people.' Do you believe that this apology opens the door to some sort of federal compensation for lynching victims?
Sen. PRYOR: Well, it may in some ways, but I do think it's important for your listeners to understand that this apology, the resolution that we passed, does not have anything to do with reparations or--in fact, it doesn't have anything to do with hate crimes or affirmative action or anything like that. It is limited solely to apologizing and expressing regret. And it may open the door in the future, but that'll be another issue as it comes down the road.
CHIDEYA: Doria, let me ask you one final question. As you talk to people who are younger than you in your family, children, teen-agers, what do you want to tell them about how your great-great-grandfather lived and died, and why it's important for America to close this chapter?
Ms. JOHNSON: I'd like the younger people to understand that Anthony Crawford belonged to all of America, and it's important that we go back and check our family histories and find out why we are what we are and how we got to where we live. I wanted to know why we moved up North and found out this, you know, tragedy was the impetus for us to run from the South. So I think that people should go check their family histories. I'm a genealogist, and that's my focus.
CHIDEYA: All right. Thank you so much. Doria Dee Johnson is the great-great-granddaughter of lynching victim Anthony P. Crawford, and Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas, supported Monday night's Senate resolution apologizing for lynching violence.
Thank you both so much for joining me.
Sen. PRYOR: Thank you.
Ms. JOHNSON: Thank you.