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The Walter White Project

Jackson Stakeman, Randy Stakeman, Authors

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Dyer Anti-lynching Bill

The NAACP knew that its 1917 Silent protest Parade was only a beginning.  Executive Secretary John Shillady had research done at the Library of Congress to list all known lynchings and victims.  The Association published a report in April of 1919 which showed that far from the public misconception most lynchings were not based on African American attacks on white women.  In fewer than one sixth of the 2500 African Americans lynched from 1889 to 1918 had the victim even been accused of rape. Most lynch victims challenged white supremacy by actions ranging from an attack on a white man to flaunting of southern racial caste conventions. Congressman Leonidas Dyer introduced a bill in April 1918 that guarded "citizens of the United States against lynching in default of' state action."*


In 1918 the Association's white leadership only tentatively supported the bill with qualms about its constitutionality and the possible negative effect on its passage if the group were too closely associated.  After the War and with new leadership the NAACP threw all its resources behind the passage of a version of this bill. From 1919 to 1922 the Association organized the witness list for committee hearings on the bill, prepared an argument on the bill's constitutionality and had new Executive Secretary James Weldon Johnson lead a lobbying effort to get the necessary votes. The Association circulated posters to promote public awareness of the bill. Walter White was fully involved in this effort handling much of the logistics and ably assisting Johnson.  With NAACP support the bill passed the House but not the Senate. In the Senate the southern Democrats filibustered the bill and the Republicans even though they held a majority of Senate declined to fight for the bill.  As Jame Weldon Johnson later wrote W.E.B. Du Bois,

I should not say "The Republicans did not intend to pass the Dyer Bill," I think they would have been glad to pass it and they had more than enough votes to do so.  The fact is,they were not willing to put up the fight necessary to overcome the Democratic opposition.  You could say, The Republicans did not try to pass the Dyer Bill." I do not believe the majority of the men on the Republican side hate and despise us " if they do, there are no words left for the sentiments of the majority of men on the Democratic side.  The Republicans are disinterested, they want to keep the Negro in the Republican Party, but his insistence upon recognition embarrasses them.  I think "wished to ignore us," expresses more exactly the attitude.  "Cowardice and Politicians" were the main characteristics of the Republicans.*


Future battles to pass a federal anti-lynching bill would happen years later with Walter White leading the fight but following the plan that James Weldon Johnson had used.  In the short run however this was the NAACP's first foray into national politics but it wouldn't be their last.  The lessons they learned in the fight for the Dyer Anti-lynching bill, the publicity they received as defenders of African Americans, and politicians' greater awareness of them would be put to good use in the years that followed.

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