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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Senate apologises over lynchings
A senator looks at a picture of a lynching
Senators decided to act after seeing a pictorial history of racial violence
The US Senate has apologised for spending decades blocking efforts to make lynchings and mob violence against black Americans a federal crime.

Nearly 5,000 Americans - mostly black males - are documented as having been lynched between 1880 and 1960.

About 200 relatives of victims - and the only known lynching survivor alive today - witnessed the Senate apologise.

Senators repeatedly blocked anti-lynching legislation from being approved by Congress.

Nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced, three of which made it past the lower House of Representatives between 1920 and 1940.

There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility
Senator Mary Landrieu

But despite the support of seven US presidents, the Senate stopped any of them becoming law.

By making lynching a federal crime, the legislation would have allowed the central US government to prosecute those responsible, and overcome opposition from local police forces, who were often complicit in the crimes.

"There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility," said Senator Mary Landrieu, who introduced the apology resolution.

Still prejudice

The text apologises for the Senate's failure to act and "expresses the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching".

The vote was passed without opposition - though 20 of the 100 senators did not put their names to a statement supporting it.

Dan Duster, a descendant of anti-lynching crusader Ida B Wells, criticised those who did not sign.

"I think it's politics. They're afraid of losing votes from people of prejudice," he said.

Lynching survivor James Cameron, surrounded by US senators
I hope that the next time it won't take so long to admit to our mistakes
James Cameron, lynching survivor

Among the others in Washington was James Cameron, 91, who was one of three people abducted from jail in Indiana to be hanged by a mob in 1930.

As a noose was tightened round the 16-year-old's neck, someone in the crowd spoke up for him and he was reprieved. His two friends died.

"The apology is a good idea, but it still won't bring anyone back," said Mr Cameron.

"I hope that the next time it won't take so long to admit to our mistakes."

The resolution was proposed by Sen Landrieu, and Senator George Allen, from Virginia, after they read a pictorial history of racist violence: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.

Black people made up three-quarters of those lynched, but were not the only victims.

The apology coincides with the trial of a 79-year-old man over the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers - two of them white - in Mississippi.

Lynching victims are not the first to receive an apology from Congress. Apologies have also been offered to other persecuted groups, including Japanese-Americans.

But the potential scale of reparation payments has complicated attempts to win an apology to blacks for slavery.

Relatives of lynching victims make up a much smaller group.

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