What are the different tools that can be used to combat an injustice? In the November-December 2018 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article focuses on one document used in the battle against mob violence against African Americans: a 1921 report from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary in support of a bill to make lynching a federal crime.
This bill was introduced by Representative Leonidas C. Dyer of Missouri at a time when lynching was rampant and anti-lynching activism was at its peak. It took an ambitious approach to the eradication of lynching: If passed, the bill would not only punish those who participated in these mob attacks, but also hold accountable the states, municipalities, and other government entities that allowed the crimes to take place, charging them with failing to provide the victims with equal protection under the laws guaranteed them by the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution.
The Dyer bill was the most promising attempt in a generation to end the scourge of mob violence against African Americans. It had the support not only of the most powerful civil rights organization in the land, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but was also endorsed by the president of the United States. Despite all this, the bill failed to pass the Senate, and today, almost a century later, the U.S. still has no federal law against lynching.
The article takes a close look at the House Judiciary Committee’s report on this bill, and encourages students to examine the document not only to gain an understanding of the Dyer bill, but also to discover the methods its authors used to try to persuade others to support the bill. Teachers might urge students to analyze a few pages of the bill and then to consider the following questions:
- What persuasive techniques did the authors use to convince their audience to support this bill? Which appear the most extensively in the document?
- What do the persuasive techniques the authors chose tell you about the document’s audience? What other techniques would you use if you were making the case for this bill to a different audience at a different time or place?
- How did the authors of the Views of the Minority section choose to make their case against the bill? Did they use similar or different techniques from the authors of the rest of the report?
As an extension, students can examine a 2018 bill to outlaw lynching, as well as a recent Senate resolution apologizing for the Senate’s inability to pass an anti-lynching bill, both of which can be found in Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. Students might examine the text of these pieces of legislation and to identify ideas or language that they have in common with the Dyer bill.
How could you use this report, or documents like it, in your classroom? Please let us know if the comments.