Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Maps in the Archives: Dark Graphics

Many of the maps and diagrams included in congressional records show how the United States expanded and changed physically. Others highlight historical advancements in technology or transportation. But not all the graphics preserved by Congress record stories of progress toward a more perfect Union. The following maps capture three of the nation’s darkest moments with striking and sometimes shocking images.

“The Red Record of Lynching,” 1922

“The Red Record of Lynching”/tiles/non-collection/1/10-20-maps-dark-graphics-lynching-map_na.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
During the 67th Congress, the Judiciary Committee considered anti-lynching legislation introduced by Missouri Representative Leonidas Dyer, a member of the committee. The committee’s records of its deliberations include a map of lynchings in each state from 1889 to 1921. The Colored Women’s Clubs of Michigan issued the map prepared by the Committee on Public Affairs and the Inter-Fraternal Council. The numbers are printed in bright red against the stark black outline of the United States. A thick red line separates northern states from the South. According to the map, southern states accounted for 88 percent of lynchings during this period, and 87 percent of southern Representatives voted against Dyer’s anti-lynching bill. Along the bottom of the page in capital letters the map proclaimed: “Mob violence and lynching - the only ‘industries’ the South votes solidly to protect.”

On April 11, 1921, Dyer introduced H.R. 13, “to assure to persons within the jurisdiction of every State the equal protection of the laws, and to punish the crime of lynching,” in response to the burning alive of a Black man by a white terror mob near Athens, Georgia. The House passed Dyer’s bill, but a looming filibuster by southern Members in the Senate threatened to derail all legislative business. No further action was taken on the bill, and to date, anti-lynching legislation has never successfully passed both chambers to become law.

“Single Bullet Theory” Trajectory Diagram, 1978

“Single Bullet Theory” Trajectory Diagram/tiles/non-collection/1/10-20-maps-dark-graphics-Single-Bullet-Trajectory_na.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
On November 22, 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy shocked and horrified the nation. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder in 1968 compounded the country’s grief and outrage. Even years later, doubts lingered about both killings, which prompted the House to form the Select Committee on Assassinations in 1976. The committee aimed to investigate the circumstances of their deaths, determine if the laws protecting Presidents were adequate, and examine whether information sharing between government agencies was transparent.

This diagram appeared in a published appendix of evidence from the select committee’s investigation of Kennedy’s assassination. Among the many theories surrounding the President’s death was that there was another shooter present on the “grassy knoll” in Dallas in addition to Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository. The “single bullet theory” posited that only one bullet caused the injuries to Kennedy’s neck and to Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the car in front of the President. The diagram showed an overhead view of the President’s limousine as it moved through Dealey Plaza, with a line from the book depository to the car. At the lower right, a second illustration depicted a closeup of the limousine, noting the position of Kennedy and Connally in the car with an arrow showing the bullet’s trajectory. Another arrow points to the direction of a photograph taken of the motorcade by Hugh Betzner that was used as a key piece of evidence. Based on the extensive review and analysis of the evidence by experts, the committee’s investigation supported the “single bullet theory” and that both the single shot that wounded the President and Connally and the fatal shot were fired from the Texas School Book Depository.

9/11 Commission Map and Timeline, ca. 2004

9/11 Commission Map Showing Flight Paths/tiles/non-collection/1/10-20-maps-dark-graphics-9-11_1_na.xml
9/11 Commission Timeline/tiles/non-collection/1/10-20-maps-dark-graphics-9-11_2_na.xml
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9/11 Commission Map and Timeline
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The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, widely known as the 9/11 Commission, used poster-sized versions of this map and timeline during its public hearings to investigate the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The events stunned the nation and the world. The scale and coordination of the attacks demanded an answer to the question of how they could have happened. In the wake of the tragedy, Congress authorized the creation of the 9/11 Commission. The independent and bipartisan legislative commission made of Representatives and Senators investigated the attacks and provided its report and recommendations to Congress in 2004.

The map shows the flight paths of the four planes used in the attacks. The maps include a timeline of each flight’s activity, and the reports received by and activity of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)/Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR) in response to the events as they unfolded. When the 9/11 Commission closed, its records were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration. Following a request by the commission to expedite the review and release of the records to the public, many of the unclassified records were opened for research in 2009.

Commissions can be established by the President and executive branch agencies; however, legislative commissions, including the 9/11 Commission, are created by and report to Congress. They are typically established to independently study and make recommendations on an issue or incident. The records of legislative commissions are part of a separate group of records at the National Archives than the records created by the committees of the House of Representatives.

After dark moments in national history, lawmakers and citizens used maps to record difficult events and try to make sense of tragedy.

For more about maps in House records, read Maps in the Archives: A Pop of Color.

Sources: RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, National Archives and Records Administration; RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Select Committee on Assassinations, National Archives and Records Administration; RG 148, Records of Commissions of the Legislative Branch, 1928–2007; H.R. 13, 67th Cong. (1921); House Committee on the Judiciary, Antilynching Bill, 67th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 452 (1921); Hearings before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Appendix, Volume VI, Photographic Evidence, 95th Cong., 2nd sess. (1979); House Select Committee on Assassinations, Summary of Findings and Recommendations, 95th Cong., 2nd sess., H. Rept. 95-1828 (1979); Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, To Establish the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, and for Other Purposes, 107th Cong., 2nd sess., S. Rept. 107-150 (2002); Jacob R. Straus, “Congressional Commissions: Overview and Considerations for Congress,” Congressional Research Service Report, 22 January 2021; History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2019; National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, 20 September 2004, https://www.9-11commission.gov/; “Records of the Legislative Commissions,” Center for Legislative Archives, 18 October 2017, https://www.archives.gov/legislative/research/browse/legislative-commissions.html.