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Against the Anti-lynching Bill

January 13, 1938 — US Senate, Washington DC


Mr. President, for a long time I have refrained, for a number of reasons, from having anything to say on this so-called antilynching bill. The fact that it is so called has made it embarrassing for those who must oppose it on the grounds of unconstitutionality and its effect upon the rights of the States to self-government. I have never approved or condoned lynchings. I have always been sick at heart when I have read of anyone being executed without a trial in the courts. Most of my life I have been an employer of colored men and women as helpers in running my household. I have been considerate of their health and their feelings. I have sought to establish a mutual understanding of what each race owes to the other. In other words, this relationship has been placed upon a basis of mutual respect, which fosters self-respect and regard for the rights of others. I have been most successful and happy in retaining their services. In fact, my present maid, whom I brought with me from Arkansas, has been in my employ as laundress since 1905, and has been with me in Washington for 10 years or more as general housekeeper. Another woman, with two children, reared her children while in my employ, living in a house on our grounds. She unfortunately developed a cancerous condition in her wrist, and the arm had to be amputated. I took her to Memphis and had the operation performed. We went to a Memphis doctor because she wished to go there, even though it was more expensive for us  We kept her in our home, paying her wages, and making her feel she was still self-supporting, hoping to prolong her life. She went to her daughter in Ohio for a visit and died there, and I lost a friend.

I am not trying to give myself a halo or anything like that. I am only trying to show that the Negro question does not enter into my opposition to this bill. I am sure my attitude is the attitude of most of the people of the South. I am a bit resentful and fearful that bad feelings engendered by such legislation as this may retard the good work being done to help and uplift a people who have always had my sympathy.

Official matters coming to my office from Negroes are handled the same way as are others. Everything I can do to see that they get justice is done. I have assisted in hundreds of worthy cases of this kind.

We hear much criticism of the so-called filibuster on this measure. I do not think this is a filibuster. This is a debate which has placed the issue before the people in such a way that the whole country now knows there is more involved than the mere prevention of lynchings. The very title of the bill is misleading, as I have found to be the case with many measures brought before the Congress. It is called an antilynching bill. Is not the first reaction to that by everyone who reads it “Why, of course, I am for that. How could one oppose it?” For lynchings are naturally obnoxious to everyone.

The great majority of the people do not stop to think of what may be contained in the bill itself. I doubt if even a small percentage of the citizens of the United States, despite the propaganda which has been carried on for years in behalf of the bill, have ever read it or realize the purpose back of the fight to have it enacted.

As have other Senators, I have been bombarded with propaganda urging me to support the bill. I received one communication from an organization in a large city which was particularly strong in its demand for the enactment of this bill. I sent the authors of the communication a copy of the bill and asked them to write me fully the sections which they favored or disliked. I never had a reply.

I may be in error, Mr. President, but I firmly believe that if the people of the United States knew what was really in this measure and all of the purposes behind it the percentage of those who favor it would be relatively small.

I have no desire to discuss the obvious unconstitutionality of the bill or its other legal features. This has been so ably done by the senior Senator from Idaho ( William Borah) and other great lawyers in this body that I should only be painted the lily. I seriously doubt that many lawyers in the Senate or out of it who know constitutional law will argue that the measure is constitutional.

For a while I may have had some doubt that this bill was aimed at the South. I have none now. It is a gratuitous insult to our section. It is just another blow in furtherance of a desire to reduce to a minimum, if possible, the influence of a group and section that have always believed in a democratic form of government. These people — my people have always clung with undying fealty to the tenets of the States’ rights doctrine in the face of continued assaults of the Republican Party; and now Democrats themselves, or self-styled Democrats, are making the attack.

We of the South have stood much, Mr. President. We have surrendered much. This effort is just one of the many which would seek to take away from our section some of the influence we have had.

When the Democratic national convention met in Philadelphia in 1936 there had been a preconvention campaign for the abolishment of the two-thirds rule. What the South was thinking of when it let that rule be abolished is more than I can understand. My voice was raised in protest against the abrogation of the two-thirds rule when we had a meeting of our State delegation on the subject. The abrogation of this rule will cost the South much in the days to come. Since then various things have happened which lead me to believe that there are certain groups who would destroy the South not only as a political entity but as a business threat in competition with other sections.

As an illustration of a part of this plan let us consider the feverish desire to pass the pending bill. Why force consideration of it at the present time?

Ever since the Civil War we have had periodically a bill of this sort introduced. This has been done despite the fact that the records show an ever-increasing decline in lynchings. The figures from the Tuskegee Institute which were placed in the RECORD by my colleague [ Mr. John E. Miller) and others show that there was never less need of a bill of this sort than at this tim. An editorial from the Arkansas Democrat, which I placed in the RECORD a few days ago, also bears on this point.

When there happens to be a lynching, it is given great publicity. We seldom, if ever, hear of the great number of cases where the orderly processes of the law are carried out, even in the face of extremely revolting crimes. It is seldom that we hear of the prevention of lynchings by brave public officials who risk their lives in protecting their prisoners from mobs, although it has been read into the RECORD several times that in 1937 there were only 8 lynchings, while 56 were prevented.

Let me repeat, there never was a time when there was less need of forcing through a bill of the character of the one now before the Senate.

There was no lynching in my State during the past year. The orderly processes of the courts were carried through time and again. Let me bring to the attention of the Senate an occurrence which has happened since the debate on this measure has begun.

I desire to have printed in the RECORD at this point as part of my remarks a letter from a prosecuting attorney of my State describing a most revolting crime in Crittenden County, Ark., and the way in which the case was handled. Notwithstanding the terrible offense committed, there was no talk of lynching.

The PRESIDING OFFICER ( Mr. MILLER in the chair ). Is there objection to the request of the Senator from Arkansas?

There being no objection, the letter was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

OSCEOLA , ARK., January 10, 1938
Senate Building, Washington, D.C.

DEAR MRS. CARAWAY: I notice that the antilynching measure is before the Senate for consideration. Naturally we people of this section of the country are opposed to a law of this kind. I certainly feel that all serious cases, where lynching usually follows, can be handled in a lawful and orderly manner. No doubt you have read from the papers an account of the trial of two Negroes at Marion, Ark., in this district, and by reading the papers it would be sufficient to convince anyone that Negroes, although charged with assaulting a white girl, can have a fair and impartial trial.

On the night of December 25, 1937, two Negroes, Theo Thomas and Frank Buster Carter, residents of Memphis, Tenn., assaulted Miss Maple Wilson, a white girl 18 years old, also a resident of Memphis. The crime was committed on the night of December 25. On the morning of December 26 these two defendants were arrested. On December 27, as prosecuting attorney of this district, I filed information against these defendants, charging them with the crime of rape. A certified copy of the information was served on the defendants, together with a bench warrant that was issued by the clerk of the court. On the afternoon of December 30 these defendants were arraigned on these charges. They were advised of the charges placed against them. Attorneys were appointed by the court to rep resent them and make whatever defense they had. One of the defendants indicated that his people would be able to raise money to pay these attorneys, and I am advised that they have been paid some money as a fee to represent the defendants. Mr. W. B. Scott, of Marion, a veteran of the bar, together with Mr. Cecil Nance, a very capable young lawyer, also of the Marion bar, were appointed to represent these defendants. The case was set for trial on January 6, 1938, a special term of court being called. The defendants were advised a week before the trial of the time and place of trial. They were given every opportunity possible to get witnesses and to arrange their defense. On January 6 court convened and all parties announced ready for trial. Great care was taken in selecting a jury, About 10 challenges were exercised by the defendants. In order to be very precautious that they would get a fair trial and that they could not complain that they were tried by white jurors who were prejudiced against Negroes, two Negroes were placed on the regular panel, and about three other Negroes were called as special jurors. The two Negroes on the regular panel were accepted by the State, One of them was excused by the defendants. The jury was completed, consisting of 11 white men and 1 Negro. The case went to trial, and at the conclusion of all the testimony, and instructions given by the court, and argument of counsel, the jury retired to consider its verdict, and after about 7 minutes they returned in open court and rendered a verdict, finding the defendants guilty and fixing their punishment at death by electrocution. A few hours later they were sentenced to be electrocuted on the 8th day of February. The defendants filed a motion for new trial, which was overruled by the court . They indicated that they might appeal from the verdict. They were told then that they would be given every opportunity they wanted in order to perfect their appeal. Briefly, the testimony showed that these defendants approached a young man by the name of F.E. Brading and the young lady, Miss Wilson, who had parked in a car just off Highway 61 near the Government fleet in Crittenden County, Ark.; they first indicated that they intended to rob the two; they both got in the car with Miss Wilson and Mr. Brading, drew knives and threatened to kill them; they forced the two to get in the back seat with one of the Negroes; the other Negro got in the front seat and started to drive off with the car, then stopped and forced Miss Wilson to get in the front seat with the other Negro. Then they began to threaten Miss Wilson and let her know that they intended to assault her. They drove for about a quarter of a mile, stopped the car, and one of the Negroes drew a knife on young Brading, and he ran to the Government station, which was about 100 yards from where the car was parked to get help. While he was gone both the Negroes drug Miss Wilson out of the car, across a field into the woods, and one of the Negroes assaulted her and brutally mistreated her. After he had finished he turned her over to the other Negro and told him that after he had finished with her to kill her and throw her in the river. The other Negro took her and kept her out in the woods and fields for about 4 hours; during which time he assaulted the young lady at least two times. She remembered the two times positively and was hazy about other times that occurred, because she lapsed into unconsciousness at times.
The Negroes were positively identified as being the Negroes who went to the car. They were seen by some other people on the highway near the scene where the car was parked. They were arrested and positively identified as being the Negroes who coni mitted the crime. They were placed in jail and kept under guard, and it was generally understood that no one could be allowed to interfere with the trial of these Negroes. The officers were very cautions in handling the whole affair. The Negroes took the stand in the trial of this case, and both of them admitted that they were the two Negroes who approached Miss Wilson and Mr. Brading; that they drove the car down the road until it stuck in the mud, and that they took Miss Wilson and Mr. Brading out of the car. They admitted practically all of the testimony given by Miss Wilson, as to the time and place that they were with her. The only thing they denied was the assault. Miss Wilson was taken to the St. Joseph’s Hospital after she was found, which was about 2:20 in the morning of December 26. The two Negroes were with her about an hour. One of them left and the other stayed with her the rest of the time, about 342 hours, or maybe 4. In all they had her out in the woods and in the fields about 5 hours.
When she was found practically all of her clothes were torn off of her. She was a pitiful sight. She was bruised, lacerated, and bleeding. Miss Wilson, after being assaulted and after being found by the officers, was taken to the hospital, was examined and treated. The doctors who treated her stated that she had been assaulted. One of the doctors testified in the trial that she had been assaulted; that she was lacerated and bleeding; that she was bruised about her breasts; that she had bruises and contusions about her body and limbs. She was required to stay in the hospital about 10 days. She was in a very nervous condition, and at the time of the trial it was plain that she was suffering physically and mentally. In fact she still presents a very pitiful sight. It seems that her future is very dark. In face of all of this testimony and the circumstances surrounding the case, these Negroes were protected by the officers. They were given a fair trial. They were allowed to have any witnesses that they wanted. They were tried by a jury on which at least one of their own color served. This trial happened in Crittenden County, Ark.
This should be sufficient evidence that the officials and citizens of the South are ready and willing to give people who commit the most heinous crimes a fair and impartial trial.
Judge Neil Killough was the presiding judge. Sheriff Howard Curlin and his deputies arrested these defendants, and he, together with some of the State police, kept them in custody and protected them against any demonstration of mob violence; and I am glad to say that the people were reconciled with the proceedings, and no offer or attempt was made to mob or lynch these Negroes. As prosecuting attorney, I informed them of every step that was being taken against them. In presenting the case they were given every consideration that any defendant on trial is given. No effort was made on my part to prejudice the minds of the jurors against the Negroes on trial. I only argued the law and evidence as introduced in the case and told the jury to give them the benefit of the doubt allowed them under the law.
I am giving you this information, Mrs. CARAWAY, because it may be possible that this will be of some assistance to you in your opposition to the antilynching bill. If I can be of further service to you in this cause or any other cause, I shall be glad to have you call on me. If you think it advisable, or even worth while for me to appear before the committee or any committee in connection with this matter, I shall be glad to do so and would be willing to make the trip to Washington on short notice. Sincerely, BRUCE IVY.

Mrs. CARAWAY. Mr. President, I am proud of the actions of the officials of Crittenden County and my State in their handling of this case. I will now read an editorial from the Arkansas Gazette regarding the way in which this case was conducted:

Crittenden County and Arkansas have given the country a demonstration of respect for law. Justice moved swiftly in the trial at Marion of two Negroes on a charge of raping a white woman. The proceedings lasted only 1 day. The verdict, carrying the death penalty, came only 7 minutes after the jury began its deliberations. Among the jurors who returned that verdict was a member of the defendants’ own race, and six other Negroes had been in the special venire summoned to try the case. If justice was swift, it was also scrupulous in observing every right of the men on trial. In the crowded courtroom there was no demonstration against the prisoners.
In the whole conduct of this case the Crittenden County courts and the people of Crittenden County have done an invaluable service to Arkansas and to the South. The orderly way the law dealt with two Negroes guilty a terrible crime, the crime most provocative of resort to lynching, is the most impressive answer that could be made to the ill-advised if not futile legislation now in Congress, the so-called antilynching bill.
I agree with the Gazette that that is the most impressive answer that could be made to the ill-advised, if not futile legislation, now being considered.

I am convinced that the people who are sponsoring this bill and fighting for its passage are , at least in part, inspired to do so for political reasons.

I am also forced to the conclusion that a part of this plan is an attempt to change the Constitution without having to refer an amendment to the people. Those sponsoring the bill want the Federal Government to have all of the power of a Nazi or Fascist state before the people are aware of what is happening.

Our Government was founded on the principle of States’ rights, and has, because of that, achieved and maintained leading position among nations which could have come no other way. Shall we take this backward step?

Some Senators, from whom we expected a better under standing of the needs of Government, want to take away the last vestige of States’ rights, they would sweep away the jurisdiction of our courts, and camouflage this purpose by saying that it is to prevent a crime which has all but passed into the limbo of things that were.

I feel that should the bill be enacted, it might be unenforceable. Prohibition certainly was not enforced . There are times when law will not prohibit. All will agree that at the present time lynching is not as serious a problem as is kidnapping . . . I should like to quote a paragraph from a recent editorial in the Washington Post, calling attention to this fact 

At present lynching is not as serious a problem as kidnaping. Twenty persons were kidnaped in the United States last year. If State officials, including Governors, are to be prosecuted for negligence in bringing lynchers to justice, the Government should also crack down when kidnaping and murder cases are bungled. Following the theory of the antilynching bill to its logical conclusion, therefore, law enforcement would soon be a Federal problem and local self-government would be on the road to extinction.

I firmly believe that should the bill become a law and be perpetrated upon the American people, it would in itself be a greater crime against our Government and our people than any that has ever been committed in our whole history.



Source: Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the Third Session of the Seventy-Fifth Congress of the United States, Vol. 83, Part 1, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office) 1938, pp. 430-432.