After over a century of trying, lawmakers in the House and Senate finally managed to make lynching a federal hate crime this Monday by passing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. The bill is currently waiting to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The Associated Press reported that the House had approved a similar bill in 2020, but it was blocked in the Senate. This year the House approved a revised version which the Senate passed unanimously this week.
“The history of lynchings in America runs deep and has been used as a weapon of terror against Black Americans,” said New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. She called this a gratifying step towards healing generational traumas that lynchings have inflicted on Black communities throughout the U.S.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that over the decades similar anti-lynching bills had been filibustered, blocked, or buried. “Thousands upon thousands of Black Americans have been victims of lynch mobs across the country, and indifferent states rarely responded, if ever,” said Schumer in a statement. “Many of the sworn officers of these states and localities not only ignored, but often participated when these atrocities occurred.”
Between 1865 and 1950 more than 6,500 people were lynched, according to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative. The first attempt at banning lynching came during the post-Reconstruction Era, and was introduced in 1918 by
Republican U.S. Rep. Leonidas C. Dyer from St. Louis, Missouri.
The legislation has since been introduced over 200 times but never passed. Most recently, it’s been sponsored and championed by Democrat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush from Chicago.
Rush is set to retire in 10 months, and is a native Chicagoan just like Emmett Till. Rush considers the passage of the bill incredibly personal for his city, legacy, and the Civil Rights Movement. “I was eight years old when my mother put the photograph of Emmett Till’s brutalized body that ran in Jet magazine on our living room coffee table, pointed to it, and said, ‘this is why I brought my boys out of Albany, Georgia,’” said Rush in a statement.
Rush named his bill after Till, who was a Black 14-year-old boy brutally murdered in what was a racially motivated lynching in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s death and open casket funeral sparked an enormous civil rights movement.
Rush said that “modern-day lynchings like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery” make it “abundantly clear” that things haven’t changed enough.
Three vigilante white men––Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan––were convicted in a state court back in November 2021 for the senseless murder of Arbery, a Black man that was out for a run in a
Georgia suburb, said CNN. The defendants were tried separately in a federal court for hate crimes this year. A spokesperson from Rush’s office added that had the bill been passed earlier, these men would’ve likely been tried for lynching.
The anti-lynching bill says that a crime can be prosecuted as a ‘lynching’ when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury, meaning it doesn’t have to specifically be a hanging death. The bill carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
“Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy,” said Rush. “Perpetrators of lynching got away with murder time and time again—in most cases, they were never even brought to trial.”
U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke added in a statement, “We must not allow this victory to foment complacency. Our nation has sent a resounding message that its future will not reflect its contemptible past, and our communities can sleep sounder at night knowing this legislation is in place.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w