After 122 years, a bill making lynching a federal hate crime in the United States is ready to be signed into law.
The Senate this week unanimously passed the bipartisan Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act to allow crimes to be prosecuted as a lynching if a victim is killed or injured as a result of a hate crime. The measure, named after the teenager whose 1955 murder helped to inspire the Civil Rights Movement, will be sent to President Joe Biden.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced companion legislation in February to the bill approved by a 422-3 vote in the House on March 1.
Three Republicans, Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas, voted against that anti-lynching bill.
Anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress as early as 1900. Before Monday, the House failed more than 200 times to criminalize lynching on the federal level.
An earlier version of the bill passed in the House in 2020, but died in the Senate.
From 1877 to 1950, some 4,400 Black people were lynched in the U.S., according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that offers legal services to those who are wrongly convicted of crimes. The NAACP counted about 4,700 lynchings from 1882 to 1968; more than 70 percent of those murdered were African-American.
Both organizations said the numbers probably were underreported.
“Although no legislation will reverse the pain and fear felt by those victims, their loved ones, and Black communities, this legislation is a necessary step America must take to heal from the racialized violence that has permeated its history,” Booker said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., tweeted Tuesday that the U.S. has taken a “critical step toward justice.”
“I look forward to @POTUS (Biden) signing this into law,” Hoyer wrote.
Till, a 14-year-old Black teen from Chicago, was visiting family in Mississippi when he was abducted by two White men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, following reports he had allegedly whistled at a White woman. Both Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the charge by all-White jury. The woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham—at the time married to Roy Bryant—admitted in 2007 that she had lied about the incident.
Till’s badly beaten body was later found in the Tallahatchie River. Authorities found he had been shot in the head. Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket at the funeral to “let the people see what they did to my boy.”