The Jolt: 100 years later, the U.S. Senate says lynching should be a crime

In this undated photo, a flag announcing lynching is flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters in New York City. Source: Library of Congress
In this undated photo, a flag announcing lynching is flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters in New York City. Source: Library of Congress

Check your calendar to see if it's still 2018. We weren't exactly sure after we saw this headline dart across our screens on Wednesday: "Senate votes to make lynching a federal crime."

That's right. After 100 years and a bit of change, and after resisting roughly 200 previous attempts, the world's greatest deliberative body agreed that lynching should be designated a hate crime -- prompting harsher sentences for perpetrators. Via CNN: 

The bill describes lynching as "the ultimate expression of racism in the United States" following Reconstruction and counts 4,742 overwhelmingly African-American victims reported from 1882 to 1968. It notes further that some 200 anti-lynching bills had been brought before Congress and 99% "of all perpetrators of lynching escaped from punishment by state or local officials."

There’s more than a whiff of presidential politics here. The legislation, unanimously approved by the Senate on Wednesday, was co-sponsored by the chamber’s three African-American members. Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California are both considering a 2020 run for the White House. Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina was a third co-sponsor.

The lynching of African-Americans was a feature of the post-Reconstruction South, as a white society defeated in the Civil War sought to re-establish the supremacy it had lost in battle.

According to one recently published study, Georgia saw 589 lynchings between 1870 and 1950, trailing only Mississippi in the total number of mob murders. So there was a bit of irony in the fact that newly minted Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., presided over Wednesday's vote. Hyde-Smith's campaign was roiled this year when the candidate complimented a supporter thusly; "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."

According to official congressional history, the first anti-lynching bill was introduced in April 1918 by Leonidas C. Dyer, a Republican from St. Louis, Mo. The legislation became a primary focus of the NAACP, and eventually passed the House in 1922.

For decades, Southern Democrats in the Senate blocked the measure with filibusters -- or threats of not-stop talking. From the late 1920s onward, the leader of that opposition was Richard B. Russell of Georgia, a fact that saw renewed emphasis this year, when U.S. Sen. Chuck Shumer, D-N.Y., suggested rechristening the Richard B. Russell Senate Office Building. Shumer suggested the building be renamed after the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

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The saga continues: A day after a recount showed Republican Chris Erwin had bested state Rep. Dan Gasaway, R-Homer, by just two votes, the incumbent filed a lawsuit challenging 14 voters he said may have cast illegal ballots.

Among them: Banks County Sheriff Carlton Speed, who the lawsuit said owns a plot of land that is mostly in another House district.

The sheriff told WAGA's Dale Russell that officials had debunked that argument and blamed "sour grapes" from Gasaway, who initiated a lawsuit earlier this year that led to a rare re-do after dozens of voters cast ballots in the wrong district.

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With the announcement of Vernon Keenan's retirement as Georgia Bureau of Investigation director, Gov.-elect Brian Kemp has another major vacancy to fill. One of the most likely contenders is Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds, a close ally of Kemp who is also a possibility for a potential new anti-gang czar post. 
Two other names to watch: John Heinen, a senior vice president who supervises the Georgia Lottery's investigators. And Appeals Court Judge Brian Rickman, a former district attorney tapped to the bench in 2015 by Gov. Nathan Deal.

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We're hearing that, after he is sworn in as governor on Jan. 14, Brian Kemp intends to hone good relations with state lawmakers by hosting a massive luncheon in their honor. It will occupy most of the state Capitol's second floor. We sought to confirm this with the governor-elect's staff this morning. The reply was a polite "no comment."

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Over at the Marietta Daily Journal, Jon Gargis has an interesting piece on a defection within the ranks of a ballooning cityhood movement in Cobb County. A most telling paragraph:

At the crux of Joe O'Connor's departure from those exploring the creation of the city of East Cobb, which if established would be the county's seventh city, is the lack of information on individuals supporting the movement and those fronting cash for a $36,000 feasibility study favorable to cityhood.

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Stacey Abrams has another feather in her cap. She joined the board of directors for the Center for American Progress on Wednesday. Abrams has still not said whether she'll challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue in 2020 or wait two years for a 2022 rematch against Brian Kemp, but she certainly is keeping her profile up.

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Republican in Georgia's congressional delegation were none too pleased about the seven-week stopgap spending bill congressional leaders unveiled on Wednesday to avoid a Christmastime shutdown (more about that coming from one of your Insiders later today). One of the most vocal was U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.

The Monroe Republican joined House Freedom Caucus colleagues on the floor Wednesday evening ,urging Trump to veto the so-called continuing resolution because it lacked funding for the border wall.

"We're standing here tonight as a voice for millions of Americans who feel like they've lost their voice in Washington," Hice said, "And we're saying it's time right now. Build the wall. Let's do it."

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Get ready. That's the message emanating from the office of Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, the man slated to take over the subpoena-wielding House Oversight Committee in January.

Cummings sent more than four-dozen letters to various Trump administration offices on Wednesday, including to that of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree reports that among the issues Cummings plans to probe is the use of government-owned aircraft for personal travel, the use of private jets for official travel, and the cost to taxpayers -- a not-so-subtle response to the ethics scandal that ultimately forced former Georgia congressman Tom Price from President Donald Trump's cabinet.

Another person who could soon be in Cummings' crosshairs? Gov.-elect Brian Kemp.

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Don't expect Georgia to follow South Carolina's lead on this one: After the South Carolina GOP said it was open to canceling its presidential primary in 2020 to protect President Donald Trump, we're told the Georgia GOP officials aren't making any moves to follow suit.

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