Lynching In America: A Grim History

My letter responding to this was published in today’s New York Times.

To the Editor:

The report on lynching is a deeply needed review of the legacy of racial terror in American life. But the truth and reconciliation called for in the Equal Justice Initiative report is also needed for the scores of racially motivated extrajudicial killings and other acts of racial terror during the civil rights period of the 1950s and 1960s. People directly affected by these more recent acts are still living today — largely without recognition and without closure.

A groundbreaking bill sponsored by Representative John Lewis, a civil rights hero, and signed into law in 2008 reopened 113 race-related murder investigations of civil rights workers and ordinary people.

To date, more than 100 of the cases have been closed by the Justice Department without prosecutions — closed quietly, without public notice. Journalists and legal advocates have questioned the Justice Department’s seriousness about identifying cases, resolving them and providing adequate information to victims’ families about what happened to their loved ones.

The United States must grapple not only with the findings reported in The Times but also with a longer legacy of violence.


February 19, 2015