Magazine article Black History Bulletin

Trees Bearing Strange Fruit: Using Documents in the Discussion of History

Magazine article Black History Bulletin

Trees Bearing Strange Fruit: Using Documents in the Discussion of History

Article excerpt

The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill

Congressman Leonidas Dyer (R-MO) first sponsored anti-lynching legislation in 1918. Initially the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) did not support the legislation based on the claims of Moorfield Storey (the first president and an attorney by trade) that the bill was unconstitutional. Storey, however, reversed his decision and by 1919 the NAACP began to press for a federal law against lynching. In the Association's program of action for 1919, it stated the "defense against lynching and burning at the hands of mobs," as one of its goals. With the support of the NAACP field secretary, James Weldon Johnson, Congressman Dyer again introduced his bill in 1921. The NAACP began an aggressive media campaign as it lobbied for support of the bill designed "to assure to persons within the jurisdiction of every State the equal protection of the laws, and to punish the crime of lynching." Southern congressmen vehemently argued against it.

African American women were in the forefront of this effort. Taking up the charge of predecessors such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), Mary B. Talbert, an early supporter of the Dyer Bill and president of the NACW, formed the Anti-Lynching Crusaders at the time of the bill's consideration before Congress (July 1922). This group of dedicated race women (membership grew from sixteen to 900 in the first three months) lobbied for federal legislation in its goal of uniting a million black women to stop lynching. Though the organization was based in the Northeast, the work of the southern black women who had forged fledgling relationships with their white counterparts more than a decade prior, helped secure the lukewarm support of southern white women. By the 1930s, the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL) had formed. Though the founder and president, Jessie Daniel Ames, did not support federal anti-lynching legislation, some state chapters and affiliate organizations endorsed it.

The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill passed in the House of Representatives in January of 1922 (230 for to 119 against), but could not prevail over the southern-led filibuster in the Senate. It took another decade before subsequent anti-lynching legislation such as the Costigan-Wagner bill (1935) and Wagner-Gavagan bill (1942) were introduced but not passed. For the complete text of the Dyer legislation as well other useful documents relating to black and white women's efforts against lynching, visit

Relevant Standards Addressed by This Lesson:

Dimensions of Critical Thinking

* Standard 2 D: The student can differentiate between historical facts and historical inter pretations;

* Standard 2 F: The student appreciates historical perspectives;

* Standard 3 A: The student can identify the author or source of the historical document or narrative;

* Standard 3 B: The student can compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, per sonalities, behaviors, and institutions;

* Standard 3 H: The student can hold interpretations of history as tentative;

* Standard 4 C: The student can interrogate historical data;

* Standard 5 A: The student can identify issues and problems in the past. …

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