First Anti-Lynching Bill in Congress Came from Tarboro

Today (March 8, 2022), the United States Senate added its unanimous consent to anti-lynching legislation already approved by the House.

The bill makes lynching a federal hate crime. Enactment will cap 120 years of efforts to make lynchings a federal crime. Of course, murders by lynching have always been crimes under state law, but the history of lynchings is that state law enforcement officials did not prosecute them.

The original anti-lynching bill came from Tarboro.

It was introduced by Tarboro’s Congressman George Henry White in 1900. White introduced the bill, following his research into lynchings nationwide, and in the period following the 1898 murders of many black men, women, and children by white supremacists in Wilmington, NC. The Wilmington event has sometimes been referred to as a “riot,” sometimes an “insurrection,” sometimes a “coup,” and is now referred to most commonly as a “massacre.” A massacre of people because they were black.

By the time White introduced his bill in 1900, he was the sole African-American member of Congress and he held the highest government office of any black leader in the country. His biographer denominates him the country’s “first black superstar.” But, in 1899, North Carolina had amended its Constitution to add a literacy test, and White had become the object of a campaign spearheaded by the Raleigh News and Observer to run him out of office. (They ran him out of Tarboro and North Carolina to boot. His house though is still here – a door down from the intersection of Granville and St. Patrick.)

Anyway, White’s bill was not adopted in 1900. Two hundred versions of it were proposed in the ensuing 120 years. Always they were voted down or not even brought to a vote.

But now, 120 years later, this legislation, whose roots are in Tarboro, will be law.

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