Saturday, October 09, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 10

Texas Conference (CJ) Passes Two Anti-Lynching Resolutions October 15, 1946

One of the continuing threads of the history of the United States is the inherent tension in a federal system between the powers of the federal government and those of the states. The specific issues have changed through the years from South Carolina’s attempts to “nullify” the collection of U. S. tariffs in the early 1830s to the present attempt by several state attorneys general to nullify the extension of health insurance.

It may surprise many readers of this column to know that a major flash point between states rights advocates and advocates of federal power was whether the federal government should protect African Americans by passing a federal anti-lynch law. Conservatives argued that a federal anti-lynch law would usurp the police powers of the states. The battle was mainly fought at the quadrennial Democratic National Convention. Liberals would bring a resolution to the Platform Committee asking that the Democratic Party support a law that would use the law enforcement resources of the federal government to punish lynch mob participants. Conservative Southerners would defeat the resolution.

A call for the passage of such a law was a constant feature of the African American press during the 1920s and 1930s, and at least some MECS women, including Jessie Daniel Ames, founder of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, adopted the cause.

The passage of a federal antilynching was still an uphill battle, and lynching continued to occur. The states rights argument that law enforcement was a local issue was contradicted by the fact that local police officers sometimes participated in the lynching, local grand juries seldom indicted the murderers, and guilty verdicts for those criminals were few and far between. Even guilty verdicts sometimes resulted in insignificant penalties.
A particularly egregious lynching had occurred about 60 miles east of Atlanta, Georgia, on July 25, 1946 George and Mae Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcolm; two young African American couples were brutally killed by a lynch mob. George Dorsey had recently returned from five years military service in the Pacific theater.

In this case the FBI did investigate, but no indictments were returned. President Truman did introduce antilynching legislation. Southern conservatives killed it. No one was ever charged at either the state or federal level for these four murders.

It was in this context that the Texas Conference (Central Jurisdiction) met at Boynton Chapel in Houston from October 15-20, 1946. The conference passed two resolutions dealing with lynching. One was composed by a committee and called upon President Truman to bring the perpetrators of the Georgia lynching to justice. The other was submitted to the conference by the Rev. A. W. Carr, a retired minister, who had joined the conference in 1900. Carr described the lynching as “the most dastardly, base and cowardly act ever perpetrated against the Negro in the United States.” Carr’s resolution also called upon President Truman to seek justice.

The passage of these resolutions was one small step on the road to racial justice. It would be more than a decade before federal legislation authorized national law enforcement


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