WASHINGTON - Seventy-five years after an enraged Indiana mob dragged him from his jail cell and nearly hanged him, James Cameron was on hand yesterday to watch the Senate apologize for its failure to try to stop the lynchings that terrorized African-Americans through large parts of the 20th century.
Cameron, 91, is thought to be the only living survivor of a lynching. He joined more than 150 descendants of lynching victims to witness the Senate's acknowledgment that although about 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced and seven U.S. presidents lobbied for such laws, none was passed by the Senate.
Among those in attendance yesterday was Simeon Wright, 62, who was sharing a room with his cousin, Emmett Till, on Aug. 28, 1955, when a mob burst into Wright's home and dragged Till out, accusing him of having whistled at a white woman. The teenager was killed.
"If we had a federal law in 1955, there is no way those men would have come into my home and taken Emmett and killed him," Wright said.
The nonbinding resolution apologizes to the victims for the Senate's failure to act over the decades, expressing "the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching, the ancestors of whom were deprived of life, human dignity and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States."
The resolution offers no compensation to victims or their families.
With 80 co-sponsors, the measure passed last night by a voice vote.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said a book filled with powerful images of lynchings spurred her to seek the apology.
The image of the crowds milling about the dangling bodies of the victims in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, most disturbed her, Landrieu said.
She noted that some of the crowds captured in souvenir photographs that sometimes were sold as postcards included laughing, smiling children dressed in their Sunday best.
The crimes were not committed in secret, Landrieu said, but rather were often community events.
"This was domestic terrorism," she said, "and the Senate is uniquely culpable" for failing to act against it.
Deborah Crawford, 54, said she experienced a jumble of emotions yesterday.
Crawford was an adult when she learned that her great-grandfather, Anthony Crawford, had been lynched in South Carolina in 1916 after arguing with a white farmer over the price of cottonseed.
She traveled from Chicago and joined dozens of relatives at a luncheon and news conference yesterday before the vote.
"I feel that there should be something else, something more than an apology, but I don't know what," Crawford said. Still, she said, she made the trip because she thought the apology was an important event.
From 1882 to 1968, records show, 4,742 Americans were lynched, 3,452 of them black.
Lynchings occurred in nearly every state but were most common in the South. Fewer than 1 percent of the perpetrators were convicted.
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