Anti-Lynching Efforts

This is an excerpt from an "Anti-Lynching" article in The Reflector. (Issue No.24; January 20, 1934).

The atmosphere of racism and violence in the United States in general, and in particular in the South, provided the breeding ground for the lynching of African-Americans. This militant tradition continued long after slavery had been abolished, reflecting the racist domination of whites and their vigilance toward African-Americans.

The drive for federal legislation that would condemn lynching had been abandoned in the 1920s after the defeat of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. In 1930, Walter White became NAACP executive secretary and developed a close working relationship with the Interracial Commission which led him to take up the drive for federal legislation once again. Walter White had forged his career in the anti-lynching struggle. In 1933, when lynching once more soared to a record high after dipping to a low of 10 the year before, he determined to channel the NAACP's piecemeal efforts into a concerted federal lobbying campaign and test the New Deal's commitment to black civil rights.

NAACP's new strategy was sponsored by Edward P. Costigan of Colorado and Robert F. Wagner of New York in the Senate and by Harlem Congressman Joseph A. Gavagan in the House. The Costigan-Wagner Act spoke directly to the chief weakness in the anti-lynching efforts of southern interracialists: their inability to bring lynchers to trial or to punish culpable officials. The measure proposed federal trials for mob members where local authorities refused to act, fines or jail terms for officers who failed to discharge their duties, and damage claims against counties where lynchings occurred.

Much to the disappointment of the African-American community, this bill did not pass and lynchings continued in many Southern states well into the fifties.

The words "Angelo Herndon" and "Scottsboro Boys" on the picket-signs refer to two of the most celebrated cases in African-American history. Angelo Herndon, born in Ohio and openly affiliated with the Communist Party, led a march in Georgia to protest discrimination against blacks. He was convicted in 1933 and sentenced to a twenty year prison term, under a hundred-year-old Georgia slave law, for inciting insurrection. His conviction was reversed in 1937 on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nine Scottsboro youth, two of whom were ages 13 and 14, were convicted of raping two white women. All except one of the youths were sentenced to death. However, litigation lasted for many years and included appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, which acted favorably on behalf of the youths. Careful historians of the Scottsboro case agree that the African-American youths were innocent victims of racism.

Awareness of this hostile environment fosters appreciation for Sellers' remarkable courage to remain outspoken and unthreatened by the inflamed racial prejudice surrounding him in Charlottesville and beyond.

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