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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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Post bowdlerises (or worse) on lynching

The story on the antilynching resolution supplies this detail about Richard Russell [1]:
In a 1938 debate, Russell repeatedly referred to a hypothetical lynching victim with a derogatory derivative of the word "Negro."

Now, Russell was one of those who, after the war, persuaded the Southern Caucus. with some success, to give up the Bilbo ranting and Huey Long monkey-shines in the cause of defending segregation.

Hollering nigger, I had thought, was not his style. Apparently not so.

Now, the Record is notoriously subject to revision, whereby the more inane effusions of senators can be excised or toned down. So, if the text includes nigger, rather than Negro, presumably Russell intended it for posterity.

(I assume the Post's use of derivative excludes synonyms like darky and coon.)

Keith Finley's thesis (Chapter 1 p33ff) considers Russell's two speeches on the Wagner-Van Nuys bill (January 11 and 26 1938) at some length, and does not mention his use of nigger.

(If the complete run of the Record was free and online, such speculation would be unnecessary.)

  1. The piece says
    Excerpts from the Congressional Record show some senators argued that such laws would interfere with states' rights. Others, however, delivered impassioned speeches about how lynching helped control what they characterized as a threat to white women and also served to keep the races separate, according to records provided by the Committee for a Formal Apology, a group that has lobbied the Senate.
    Did the Post independently verify the quotes from the Congressional Record?


Randall Kennedy in Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word wrote
Partly to distance themselves from this ilk, some whites of higher standing have aggressively forsworn the use of nigger. Such was the case, for example, with senators Strom Thurmond and Richard Russell, both white supremacists who never used the N-word.

I don't know quite what checking Kennedy did to back up that statement. (Though, given the topic of his book, you'd have hoped it was plenty.)

From what I can see, there is no online copy of the Record - even for ready money - going back further than 1985. And Russell must have given a whole lot of speeches on the Senate floor (to go no wider) during the Jim Crow era.

(Checking just the civil rights debates might be feasible. And - as I said - I'm very much hoping that the Post will have checked Russell's Wagner-Van Nuys speeches.)

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