Digital History>eXplorations>Lynching>Anti-Lynching Legislation of the 1920s>William Borah to W. Hayes McKinney

William Borah's Letter to W. Hayes McKinney (May 22, 1922)

Source: William Borah Papers, Library of Congress

I have your telegram of the 21 st , in which you say "Unfavorable Judiciary sub-committee report on Dyer Bill will become as infamous as Dred Scott decision if allowed to stand, and so forth". I realize, Mr. McKinney, how deeply you and all your people feel in regard to this matter.

You should bear in mind also that some people not of your race feel as deeply and sincerely about this as you do. It may be that the race question brings it more directly home to you, but we feel the disgrace upon our country by reason of these lynchings as you do and we are just as anxious to remedy I am sure.

But you must permit me to say that the best evidence of sincerity in dealing with this is the determination to know that our work shall not be in vain. When I attempt to serve the negro in this grave matter, I propose to have behind it my conscience and my convictions, and I do not intend out of sheer politics or unseasoned desire to serve to do a vain and useless thing. It will not help your people and it will only add another chapter of insincerity and disgrace to our dealing with the negro question.

I do not believe that the present law, as proposed, is constitutional. I do not think there is a single constitutional principle upon which to base the law. The Supreme Court has as definitely decided it as any question which has ever been before the Court, in my judgment. I have spent weeks going through the decisions and examining the arguments, both for and against, and if I should support this law, I would feel I was trifling with a question which involves the honor of the country.

You will pardon me for saying I do not propose to take any such course and the mere suggestion that my course will be "as infamous as the Dred Scott decision" does not move me at all to do a purely expedient thing without convictions or conscience or law behind it.

However, the program now is to make an effort to draft a law which will comply with the Constitution. It is no easy thing to do. I doubt if the national government can ever deal with the subject without an amendment to the constitution. But I can assure you that there are plenty of men on both sides of the aisle in the Senate who are deeply interested in this question and who will work out a solution if, under the Constitution, it can be done. But there are also men who are deeply interested in it who will not violate their oaths in an open effort to disregard the Constitution. If those who are in favor of this bill will cite us to the authorities and decisions upon which it can framed, they will not only render their Committee a great service than by denunciation of those who are seeking in a constitutional way to solve the question.

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