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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Monday, June 13, 2005

The soft censorship of online non-availability

I see at that great source for political clips, Crooks and Liars, a piece on the Landrieu antilynching resolution (June 7), quoting an AP piece:
A resolution that the chamber was likely to take up Monday voices regret for the Senate's unwillingness for years to pass a law stopping a crime that cost the lives of over 4,700 people, mostly blacks, between 1882 and 1968....
and commenting
I never realized that it was legal in the first place. How sick is that? The fact that it was then allowed to last until 1968 is unimaginable.

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

One gets a sense of that New Statesman competition Misleading Information for Tourists Visiting London [1]: a slight miasma of plausibility barely masking complete and utter bollocks!

Anyhoo - the piece does cite an interesting page containing all too brief extracts from testimony given to the House Judiciary Committee in the 81st Congress on the subject of Antilynching and Protection of Civil Rights [2].

It looks pretty restrained compared to what - I surmise - you would have got from early Bilbo. But the sentiments, seen at a distance of 55 years, are a tad embarrassing to modern sensitive souls, especially, perhaps, Democrats who are reminded of the Faustian pact their predecessors made with the princes of Jim Crow.

Does that explain why the online availability of Congressional materials is so skimpy? There are roughly five regimes in place:

  1. Up to 1877, the Library of Congress provides the Congressional Record and its predecessors and bill texts, both in image form.

  2. 1877-1972: nada.

  3. 1973-1988: THOMAS gives summary details of bills and the like.

  4. 1989-date: THOMAS gives full texts of bills and floor proceedings.

  5. c1995-date: GPO gives full texts of Congressional reports, hearings, etc

The LOC provision has stayed the same for at least the last three or four years; I've no idea whether there are any plans to digitise or scan material in the missing period and make it available online, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.

Now, the materials are no doubt available in dead-tree form at good public and college libraries throughout the US. But it's open to question to what extent keeping it that way limits its dissemination, in research directed at both academic and lay audiences.

(The analogy with news is inviting: the comparative impact of news splashed on the front page compared to hidden on A17. A story can be out there - even in the Times or Post but still have negligible impact.)

  1. Examples:

    Try the famous echo in the British Museum Reading Room.

    On first entering an Underground train, it is customary to shake hands with every passenger.

  2. So far as I can tell from Voteview, no antilynching bill received a roll call vote in the House in the 81st Congress. I'm not even clear that one was reported out. (I lack an equivalent for the House of Keith Finley's thesis on the Senate.)

    There is an all too short extract from that Bilbo of the Lower House, John Rankin.

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