In the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which makes lynching a federal hate crime for the first time in American History.
“I want to thank Vice President Harris who was a key co-sponsor of this bill when she was a United States senator,” Biden said. “And I also want to thank Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer and members of the Congress here today, especially Congressman Hoyer and Bobby Rush, Senator Dick Durbin and Cory Booker. I also want to thank Senator Tim Scott, who couldn’t be here today.”
Several Civil Rights leaders were gathered at the signing ceremony, along with family members of Emmett Till.
“Thank you for never giving up,” Biden said to all attendees. “To the Till family: We remain in awe of your courage to find purpose through your pain. To find purpose through your pain. But the law is not just about the past, it’s about the present and our future as well.”
Years in the making, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is among some 200 bills that have been introduced over the past century that have tried to ban lynching in America.
It is named for the Black teenager whose brutal killing in Mississippi in 1955 — and his mother’s insistence on an open funeral casket to show the world what had been done to her child — became a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights era.
“It was over 100 years ago, in 1900, when a North Carolina Representative named George Henry White — the son of a slave; the only Black lawmaker in Congress at the time — who first introduced legislation to make lynching a federal crime,” Biden said. “Hundreds — hundreds of similar bills have failed to pass.”
Biden went on to quote research which sites that between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 Black people were murdered by lynching. Some were trying to vote, or go to school, or own a business or preach the gospel.
Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of journalist Ida B. Wells, spoke at the Rose Garden podium.
“Through her writing and speaking, she exposed uncomfortable truths that upset the status quo,” Duster said of Wells. “Truth that lynching was being used as an excuse to terrorize the Black community in order to maintain a social and economic hierarchy based on race.”
“Since my great-grandmother’s visit to the White House 124 years ago, there have been over 200 attempts to get legislation enacted,” Duster added. “But we finally stand here today, generations later, to witness this historic moment of President Biden signing the Emmett Till anti-lynching bill into law.”
The bill imposes criminal penalties of up to 30 years in prison for an individual “who conspires to commit a hate crime offense that results in death or serious bodily injury or that includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.”
“Racial hate isn’t an old problem; it’s a persistent problem,” Biden said. “And I know many of the civil rights leaders here know, and you heard me say it a hundred times: Hate never goes away; it only hides. It hides under the rocks. And given just a little bit of oxygen, it comes roaring back out, screaming. But what stops it is all of us, not a few. All of us have to stop it.”