1921 April 12

President Harding Sends Civil Rights Message to Congress: Calls for End to “Barbaric Lynching”


President Warren G. Harding sent a civil rights legislative message to Congress on this day. He called for an end to the “stain of barbaric lynching” in America and proposed a national commission, composed of members of both races, to study the problem. Harding was heir to the Abraham Lincoln tradition in the Republican Party and was committed to the cause of African-Americans. The bill received no support in Congress, however, and he soon abandoned any interest in racial justice.

For the background to Harding’s position on lynching, see the introduction of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill in the House of Representatives on April 1, 1918 and the first national conference on lynching on May 5, 1919.

In an even more startling move, on October 26, 1921, Harding spoke to a huge and racially integrated audience in Birmingham, Alabama, on the occasion of the city’s 50th anniversary; there, he declared that qualified African-Americans should be allowed to vote. His remarks were reportedly greeted with shock and stony silence.

Learn more: John Dean [yes, the John Dean of Watergate fame], Warren G. Harding (2004)

Learn more about the Dyer anti-lynching bill: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/dyer-anti-lynching-bill-1922

Read the 2015 report on the number of lynchings: Equal  Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (2015)

Learn more about President Harding and civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

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