After Congress failed to pass the Emmet Till anti-lynching legislation more than 200 times, the law heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature, making it a federal hate crime.
When signed, the law (HR-55) would make it a federal crime for anyone who commits a hate crime leading to the death or serious bodily harm to the victim. It covers kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, killing, or attempts to kidnap.
The Bill sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, kicked off in 2019.
“I was eight years old when my mother put the photograph of Emmett Till’s brutalized body in Jet Magazine on our living room coffee table, pointed to it, and told us, ‘this is why I brought my boys out of Albany, Georgia.’ That photograph shaped my consciousness as a Black man in America and changed the course of my life. And it changed our nation,” said Rush, in a statement posted on his congressional website.
Buoyed by a unanimous senate approval, the vote marks a significant win for the civil rights movement, seeking to have the law in place to prevent the racial-motivated killing of black people in the U.S.
“While this will not erase the horrific injustices to which 10s of 1000s of African Americans have been subjected over the generations, nor fully heal the terror inflicted on countless others, it is an important step forward as we continue the work of confronting our nation’s past in pursuit of a brighter and more just future,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Entitled the Emmet Till Anti-lynching Act, in honor of Till and 14-year old boy killed, killed in 1955 after Carolyn Donham, a White woman, accused the teenager of making sexual advances at her in a store by whistling at her.
Till was kidnapped, beaten, lynched, and shot. His body was found weighed down with a cotton gin fan under the Tallahatchie River.
SEC. 2. LYNCHING; OTHER CONSPIRACIES.
Section 249(a) of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(5) LYNCHING.—Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.
An all-White jury acquitted Roy Bryant, Donham’s husband, and his half-brother J.W. Milan for the murder.
As a protest against the injustice, Mamie Till-Mobley chose to have an open-casket funeral for her son, helping to ignite the civil rights movement.
“The lynching of Emmett Till, and Mamie Till-Mobley’s courageous decision to hold an open-casket funeral for her son, was a catalyst for the civil rights movement. It exposed our nation to the brutal truth and terror of racism in America and put us on the path to becoming a more equal nation,” Rush said.
Enslavers and White racists used lynchings around 1865 and 1950 to terrorize Black Americans, especially in the Southern states.
“More than 6500 Americans were lynched between 1865 and 1950,” Rush said in a statement posted on his website citing an Equal Justice Initiative Study. “Legislation will begin the process of closing this shameful chapter in our history.”
Under the legislation, a lynching for the first time in the nation’s history will be defined as a hate crime. ending an embarrassing chapter in U.S. history.
According to his website, Rush is also moving to honor Till and his mother post-humously. He is the lead sponsor of legislation that seeks to award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to Till and his mother and direct the Postmaster General to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Mamie Till-Mobley.
Biden, who credits his presidency to the boost he gained from Black Americans during the campaigns, is expected to sign the legislation into law.
The legislation passed 410-4. Only 4 Congressmen voted against the bill. They’re Independent Rep. Justin Amash (MI), Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX), Rep. Thomas Massie (KY), and Rep. Ted Yoho (FL).
EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE VIDEO ON THE HISTORY OF LYNCHING IN THE U.S.