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Apologizing To Lynching Victims And Their Descendants

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise in strong support of this resolution. Before I make any further remarks, I would like to recognize Doria D. Johnson, and thank her for coming. She is from Evanston, IL. Ms. Johnson is the great, great-granddaughter of Anthony Crawford, a South Carolina farmer who was lynched nearly 100 years ago for the crime of being a successful Black farmer. I am sure that this day has special meaning for her, and for the other family members of those who were impacted by these great tragedies of the past. I thank her and others for being here today.

Since America's darkest days of Jim Crow, separate but equal, fire hoses, church bombings, cross burnings and lynchings, the people of this great Nation have found the courage, on occasion, to speak up and speak out so that we can right this country's wrongs, and walk together down that long road of transformation that continues to perfect our Union. It is a transformation that brought us the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act; a transformation that led to the first Black Member of Congress, and the first Black and White children holding hands in the same playground and the same school; a transformation without which I would not be standing here speaking today. But I am. And I am proud because, thanks to this resolution, we are taking another step in acknowledging a dark corner of our history. We are taking a step that allows us--after looking at the 4,700 deaths from lynchings, the hate that was behind those deaths, and this Chamber's refusal to try and stop them--to finally say that we were wrong.

There is a power in acknowledging error and mistake. It is a power that potentially transforms not only those who were impacted directly by the lynchings, but also those who are the progeny of the perpetrators of these crimes. There is a piercing photographic exhibit in Chicago right now that displays some of the lynchings that occurred across the country over the past two centuries. These photographs show that what is often most powerful is not the gruesome aspects of the lynching itself, nor the terrible rending of the body that took place. No, what is most horrific, what is most disturbing to the soul is the photographs in which you see young little White girls or young little White boys with their parents on an outing, looking at the degradation of another human being. One wonders not only what the lynching did to the family member of those who were lynched, but also what the effect was on the sensibilities of those young people who stood there, watching.

Now that we are finally acknowledging this injustice, we have an opportunity to reflect on the cruelties that inhabit all of us. We can now take the time to teach our children to treat people who look different than us with the same respect that we would expect for ourselves. So it is fitting, it is proper, and it is right that we are doing what we are doing today.

However, I do hope, as we commemorate this past injustice, that this Chamber also spends some time doing something concrete and tangible to heal the long shadow of slavery and the legacy of racial discrimination, so that 100 years from now we can look back and be proud, and not have to apologize once again. That means completing the unfinished work of the civil rights movement, and closing the gap that still exists in health care, education, and income. There are more ways to perpetrate violence than simply a lynching. There is the violence that we subject young children to when they do not have any opportunity or hope, when they stand on street corners not thinking much of themselves, not thinking that their lives are worth living. That is a form of violence that this Chamber could do something about.

As we are spending time apologizing today for these past failures of the Senate to act, we should also spend some time debating the extension of the Voting Rights Act and the best way to extend health care coverage to over 45 million uninsured Americans. We should be considering how we can make certain that college is affordable for young African-American children, the great, great-grandchildren or the great, great, great-grandchildren of those who have been wronged. These are the ways we can finally ensure that the blessings of opportunity reach every single American, and finally claim a victory in the long struggle for civil rights.

Today is a step in the right direction. Today's actions give us an opportunity to heal and to move forward. But for those who still harbor anger in their hearts, who still wonder how to move on from such terrible violence, it is worth reflecting for a moment on one remarkable individual: Mamie Till Mobley.

Mamie Till Mobley's child Emmett was only 14 years old when they found him in the Mississippi River, beaten and bloodied beyond recognition. After Ms. Mobley saw her child, her baby, unrecognizable, his face so badly beaten it barely looked human, someone suggested that she should have a closed casket at his funeral. She said: No, we are going to have an open casket, and everybody is going to witness what they did to my child.

The courage displayed by this mother galvanized the civil rights movement in the North and in the South. And, despite the immensity of the pain she felt, Mamie Till Mobley has repeatedly said: I never wasted a day hating. Imagine that. She never wasted a day hating, not one day.

I rise today, thanking God that the United States Congress--the representatives of the American people and our highest ideals--will not waste one more day without issuing the apology that will continue to help us march down the path of transformation that Mamie Till Mobley has been on her whole life, and that the people in attendance in the gallery have been on for generations.

I am grateful for this tribute, and I am looking forward to joining hands with my colleagues and the American people to make sure that when our children and grandchildren look back at our actions in this Chamber, we do not have something to apologize for.


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