Thursday, April 9, 2015

April 9, 1883: Sam Lewis

Today we learn about a lynching in Alabama through the pages of The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) dated April 11, 1883:

Cherokee County, Alabama.


Special to The Constitution.

AMBERSON STATION, Cherokee county, Ala., April 9.—On the 8th inst. Sam Lewis , colored, charged with the murder of Dink Weems, colored, on the 7th of February, 1883, was arrested and brought from Georgia by Mr. Tidwell. He was tried before Justice W. H. Graham. On the evidence being very conclusive, and the prisoner acknowledging his guilt, he was committed to jail. Friday night the prisoner was forced from the guard by a mob of about seventy-five negroes and six whites and hanged to a tree until he was dead.

Today's article of interest comes from The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) dated April 25, 1937:

Sullivan Opposed To Anti-Lynching Bill

Points Out Southern Negroes May Get To Vote Next


TO CONSIDER the federal anti-lynching bill as a measure standing by itself, would seriously mislead. Anyone who will take the trouble to look into this bill, and its background, will come close to understandingt he[sic] whole question—Supreme court, constitutionality, and states' rights—which is just coming to a head in Washington.

It is a question for the country and for congress. Particularly is it a question for the democratic party. Most particularly of all, it is a problem, and an acute one, for the southern democrats who provide most of the leadership, and substantially all the democratic party leadership, in congress. These leaders have just become aware of where they have been carried by their assent to new Deal measures during the past four years. They have just become aware that they face a crisis. One of them says, and most observers agree, that the crisis is of the same kind that the south went through during the years following the Civil war.

The anti-lynching bill must be looked at in connection with the proposal to change the Supreme court, and the court's recent decision upholding the Wagner labor relations act. For understanding the situation in general, and the anti-lynching bill specifically, it is convenient to begin with the Wagner act.


In the crisis, the part of the Wagner act is indirect. The Wagner act gives congress the right to regulate labor relations in every state, and the Supreme court has sustained this right. This is the farthest extension of federal power into the states that has ever taken place. And the southern democrats are now troubled by an alarming reflection. If the federal government can regulate labor relations in a comparatively small factory in Richmond, Virginia (as in one of the cases decided by the Supreme court) maybe the federal government, in pursuance of this trend, can regulate some matters which the south regards as more important than labor relations; which the south, indeed, regards as paramount to everything else. Southern democrats wonder if the time may come when the federal government will regulate elections in the southern states.

What makes the situation vivid to the southern democrats is the anti-lynching bill.

The Anti-Lynching Bill.

Let it be said at once that no democrat in congress, from the south or anywhere else, condones lynching. The southern democrats are as eager as any one else to end lynching. In their respective states they are trying earnestly to end it, and they are succeeding. But they want to end it by local action within their respective states.

What the southern democrats fear about the anti-lynching bill is the intrusion of the federal government into the domestic affairs of the states. And, in truth, the anti-lynching bill proposes such an intrusion as has never taken place before—not since the federal government sent troops into southern states after the Civil war, to be present at the polls in order to insist on Negroes voting. The anti-lynching bill represents a quite similar exercise of federal authority within the states.

"Too Far."

The anti-lynching bill proposes that if there is a lynching anywhere the federal government shall take notice of it. If the federal government thinks the state government or county government has not been as vigilant in preventing the lynching as the federal government thinks it ought to have been, then the federal government  will act. If the federal government thinks that the local, state or county government "fails, neglects or refuses to make all diligent efforts to protect" the victim of lynching, or to apprehend all persons participating in a lynching mob—in that event the federal government is to step in. The federal government is to prosecute the local, state or county official prosecute him in a federal court, try to convict him, and, on conviction, punish him with a fine up to $5,000 or imprisonment up to five years, or both. Further—most astonishingly further—the federal government proposes to put a fine up to $10,000 upon the county in which the lynching has taken place, the money to be turned over to the victim's heirs.

That is certainly going too far in federal invasion of states' rights, federal intrusion into local affairs. Nothing like it had ever been done before. If the federal government can do this there isn't anything it can't do within a state.

If this anti-lynching bill, having passed the house, now passes the senate, and if the president signs it, and if it becomes law, and if the federal government attempts to arrest a state or county official—then we shall see something interesting, perhaps something dramatic. We shall see what the governor of the invaded state will do. There are persons in the south and elsewhere who think that a state or county official thus threatened by a federal officer should be defended by force of arms. They think that a governor ought to call out the state troops, if necessary, to defend a state or county official from arrest by the federal government for something done or not done by the state officials in the line of his official duty. There have been governors, in the north as well as the south, who would not hesitate to go that far.

What Southern Democrats Fear

There have been federal anti-lynching bills in congress before. Always the southern democrats have resisted them. Always the resistance has been successful—no such bill has ever passed. But now the southern democrats have two fears. They fear this bill will be enacted, as indeed it may be—it has already passed the house. And the southern democrats have another fear, a new one. Always in the past they have felt that even if an anti-lynching bill passed congress, the Supreme court would holt [sic] it unconstitutional. They still put their reliance on the Supreme court. But they are seriously disquieted by recent events. They know the Supreme court, by its decision on the Wagner act, has gone a long distance toward reducing states' rights. And they know that there is now pending in congress a measure, proposed by a democratic president, which aims, in effect, to have a Supreme court which will do what the federal government wishes. They fear, and are justified in fearing, that the purpose, or the effect, of the change Mr. Roosevelt purposes, would be a court which would okay
any assertion of federal power that the president might make.

In this condition the southern democrats wonder if the Supreme court would still save them from an anti-lynching law. The southern democrats in the language of Representative Miller of Arkansas, "turn longing eyes and aching hearts to the Gibraltar of American liberty, the Supreme court. . .Sometimes I thank God for the Supreme court." The imminence  of the anti-lynching bill may do more to awaken southern democrats to the value of an independent Supreme court, and to the danger of Mr. Roosevelt's proposal for changing the court, than all the speeches and writings of opponents of the president's proposal.

A New Kind of Politics.

The anti-lynching measure that has passed the house is in effect the collection of a bill for services rendered. The bill was contracted by Democratic National Chairman Farley last November, when he asked northern Negroes to vote for President Roosevelt, and they complied. But while Mr. Farley and the northern democrats contracted the bill, it is the southern democrats who are called on to pay—in the form of a surrender of deeply cherished principal and tradition.

The present anti-lynching bill is a new kind of politics, or at least politics with a new line-up. In the past anti-lynching bills had come from republicans, for the reason that republicans were the recognized friends of the Negro, and republicans were the beneficiaries of Negro voting, wherever Negroes were permitted to vote in numbers, which was only the north.

Always in the past opposition to anti-lynching bills has come from democrats; not only southern democrats, but all democrats, for in the past northern democrats have as a rule stood with their southern brothers on this point.

With the republican party as the traditional friend of the Negro, and the Negro expressing his gratitude by his vote, republican leaders followed a policy of trying to promote the rights of the Negro in the south. Republicans not only proposed anti-lynching bills but also, years ago, force bills, bills designed to compel the south to permit the Negro to vote.

All this came to an end in the election of 1936. Democratic National Chairman Farley and his aides wooed the Negro vote. That vote had become extremely important in many northern states. It had become decisive, in close elections, in several northern states. It had become decisive, in close elections, in several northern cities, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, and St. Louis. Mr. Farley and the northern democratic leaders wooed this Negro vote by appointments to office, by putting Negroes on relief rolls in large numbers. and by promising the Negroes that they should hold public offices in proportion to their numbers. Mr. Farley wooed the Negro vote and got it. Every politician and observer agrees that nine-tenths of the Negro vote last November went to Mr. Roosevelt.

So now it is the northern democrats who are under obligation to the Negroes. Not the southern democrats — only the northern ones. To partially pay this obligation, it is now the northern democrats who introduce and push through the house an anti-lynching bill. The political nature of the measure was frankly recognized. A southern democrat, Mr. Rankin, of Mississippi, taunted his northern associates, saying the bill was intended "to make Harlem safe for Tammany." Practically all the northern democrats voted for it. In this, the northern democrats are joined by most (though decidedly not all) of the republicans. The new line-up consists of the northern democrats and the republicans favoring the anti-lynching bill — with only the southern democrats resisting it, and the southern democrats alone are not enough. The bill passed, 277 to 119.

The South May Pay More.

The anti-lynching measure is only a part of the account which is to be presented to the south for payment as a result of Mr. Farley's lining up the northern Negro vote for Mr. Roosevelt. The ultimate reward which northern Negro leaders, and some white leaders of Negroes, want from Mr. Farley and the democratic national organization, is the unrestricting voting of Negroes in the south. At present, in most of the southern states, Negroes hardly vote at all. In Alabama, the official ballot used last November bore, at the head of the democratic column, the legend:  "White Supremacy." In the country, as a whole, the New Deal party in last November's election was less a donkey than a zebra. In the south it was pure white; in the north, black and white.

It is only a matter of time until attempt will be made to use the power of congress to compel the democrats in the south to permit Negro voting in that section. One suggestion is that congress should pass national legislation barring from participation in presidential elections any party which in any state violates the Fourteenth Amendment; that is, denies to Negroes the right to vote. At present the states are protected in local control of their local elections by the constitution and the Supreme court. but the southern democrats have become uneasy about whether the constitution and the Supreme court will continue to protect them.

(Copyright. 1937. New York Tribune, Inc.)

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