The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, October 03, 2003

Lynching, civil rights and the US Senate - a couple of juicy sources

In a field where there is pitifully little of real nourishment online, I've stumbled across a couple of items that look good for a decent tuck-in or two.

First, a Ph D thesis from Louisana State University by a guy called Keith Finley, Southern Opposition to Civil Rights in the United States Senate: A Tactical and Ideological Analysis, 1938-1965 - around 1MB or so, in smaller chunks.

Second, covering much the same period, is a 700KB PDF diatribe (filled by facts that may or may not be correct, but at least give one a place to start) against erstwhile Georgia Senator and LBJ mentor Richard Russell. He evidently thinks Russell should have modelled his views on civil rights on those of Quota Queen Justice (Ha!) O'Connor.

The guy's proposal: to rename the Richard Russell Building! Jesus! He has, as I type, the grand total of just 382 signatures. And that in a land where - according to a worthwhile piece in the American Journalism Review for October/November -
In a January Knight Ridder poll, half of the respondents said that one or more of the 9/11 hijackers was an Iraqi.
And, according to Gallup in March, 48% believed in creationism...


Having just skimmed the first chapter of the Finley thesis - dealing briefly with the 1922 Dyer antilynching bill and with the Costigan-Wagner bill of 1935, it majors on the Wagner-Van Nuys bill of 1938.

I had previously touched on these last two (December 8 2002) based on the extremely skimpy information I had available to me. (The topic had rather emerged from the Trent Lott Dixiecrat furore - December really was American Dilemma Month...) Finley expands by a factor of several dozen the infomation available online on the intricacies of the Senate's handling of the 1938 bill.

The procedural issues, the politics and the personalities are well integrated into what looks like a Senate procedural not too far removed from the Robert Caro class (which is very much the Big Leagues!).

Even on a skim, I couldn't help notice the name of William Dieterich (about whose existence I had learnt only a few hours ago!) taking a minor but potentially crucial role: it seems that Wagner allowed Dieterich to insert a rider to the bill excluding mob- and labour-related murder from its scope. The bill provided for the county in which a lynching took place to be liable to pay up to $10,000 compensation to the victims families - and, without the amendment, Cook County would have had a heavy bill to pay...

Later, of course, the Southern opponents picked on Dieterich's amendment as typical Yankee double-standards!

(It's a great pity that the Congressional Record of the debates isn't available online. Bilbo, Cotton Ed Smith - the past is another planet!)

UPDATE (October 5)

The Finley is proving an excellent read. Just like the police procedural, making the detail clear should carry the story on, not hold it up - this Finley does just fine. One gets a flavour of the personalities and anecdotes - but not so as to bog down the narrative.

(And it is mostly narrative - a lot of political science research online is obsessed with statisitical analysis - just as you're getting into the story, the writer breaks off for 50 pages of quadratic multilinear regression to prove his pet theory. Not here - not so far!)

A propos, an amazing fact about a stalwart of the Southern Caucus whose very name (rightly or wrongly) conjures up the image of a linen suit with a cascade of tobacco drool down the lapel: Ellison D Smith, aka 'Cotton Ed' Smith. This valiant champion of Jim Crow has, it seems, his very own fund that grants research awards. The awards page quotes the Columbia State on Smith thus:
one of the most colorful senators in the Nation's history, a rugged individualist who fought to the very end for his very pronounced ideas on government, on racial relations and other matters. He didn't flinch to stand alone; he was a bitter-end fighter of the New Deal, [and] a staunch supporter of States' rights. . . .

South Carolina, of course, is where they had all that fuss about the Confederate flag [1]; birthplace of Woodrow 'History Written in Lightning' Wilson (darling of the Party of Treason and main begetter of the accursed doctrine of self-determination); and home of Ernest Hollings - the guy who put the Confederate flag above the SC Statehouse whilst Jim Crow Governor in 1962, and currently the Secessionists' US Senator from the Palmetto State [2].

Smith may be of interest on a purely trivial ground. I note his date of birth is August 1 1864: does that make him the longest surviving Federal legislator (died November 17 1944) to have been born (in Lynchburg (!) SC) in a state then part of the Confederacy? I'm inclined to think not, given the tendency to longevity of those Jim Crow pols: John Nance Garner, for instance, made it to 98 (born November 22 1868, just out of time!).

  1. Work back from February 5 piece.

  2. Why price Fritz's answer to the Mark Furhman question...

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