Digital History>eXplorations>Lynching>Anti-Lynching Legislation of the 1920s>Walter White to the Senate


Letter from Walter White to the Senate (December 1, 1922)

Source: NAACP Papers, Library of Congress

In view of the fact that the fight on the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill centers on the question of constitutionality, I want to present to you as a friend of the Bill certain facts which will, I believe, adequately answer such objections. One of the statements made is that if the Federal Government has the power to legislate for the punishment of lynching, it has the power to legislate for the punishment of murder and other crimes committed in the various states. It appears that this latter power the Federal Government would naturally have if the states proved themselves unable or unwilling to deal with the crime of murder or any other infraction of the law which threatens the safety of the national government. But the analogy is not a true one. Lynching is murder, but it is also more than murder.

In murder one or more individuals take life, generally for some personal reason. In lynching a mob sets itself up in place of the state and its actions in place of due process of law to mete out death as punishment to persons accused of crime. It is not only against the act of killing that the Federal Government seeks to exercise its power through the proposed anti-lynching law but against the act of the mob in arrogating to itself the functions of the State and substituting its actions for the due processes of law guaranteed by the Federal Constitution to every person accused of crime. In murder the murderer merely violates the law of the State. In lynching, the mob arrogates to itself the powers of the State and the functions of the government. It apprehends, accuses, tries, condemns and executes be meting out death as a punishment – a very different thing from a murder.

This Bill is aimed against lynching not only as murder but as anarchy – anarchy which the States have proven themselves powerless to cope with. The States deal more or less effectively with the crime of murder, but it is not unreasonable to estimate that no less than 250,000 persons have taken part in lynchings, and it is known that not ten of them have ever been punished. The argument that the Dyer Bill is unconstitutional made by its opponents is not a tenable one when all the facts are considered. No one can make this decision save the United States Supreme Court. Certain it is that the great preponderance of evidence is in favor of the constitutionality of the measure. The constitutionality of the Dyer Bill has been affirmed by the Attorney General of the United States and by Judge Guy D. Goff of the Department of Justice, and by the Judiciary Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Further the Senate has been petitioned to pass the measure by forty-seven lawyers and jurists including two former attorneys general of the United States, and by nineteen State Supreme Court justices and many other eminent citizens, including twenty-four State governors and thirty-nine mayors of large cities, North and South, three archbishops, eighty-five bishops, and many editors and other in public life.

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