In this September 3, 1955 file photo, mourners pass Emmett Tillís
casket in Chicago. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is named for Till,
the Black teenager whose killing in Mississippi in the summer of 1955
became a galvanizing moment in the civil rights era. His grieving mother
insisted on an open casket to show everyone how her son had been
brutalized. Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation more
than 120 years ago. Until March of this year, it had failed to pass such
legislation nearly 200 times, beginning with a bill introduced in 1900.
New law finally makes lynching a federal hate crime
By Darlene Superville
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) ó Presidents typically say a few words before they
turn legislation into law. But Joe Biden flipped the script Tuesday when
it came time to put his signature on the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act.
He signed the bill at a desk in the White House Rose Garden. Then he
"All right. Itís law," said the president, who was surrounded by Vice
President Kamala Harris, members of congress, and top Justice Department
officials. He was also joined by a descendant of Ida B. Wells, a Black
journalist who reported on lynchings, and Rev. Wheeler Parker, a cousin
Biden said itís "a little unusual to do the bill signing, not say
anything and then speak. But thatís how we set it up."
He thanked the audience of civil rights leaders, Congressional Black
Caucus members, and other guests who kept pushing for the law for "never
giving up, never ever giving up."
Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation more than 120
years ago. Until March of this year, it had failed to pass such
legislation nearly 200 times, beginning with a bill introduced in 1900
by North Carolina representative George Henry White, the only Black
member of congress at the time.
Harris was a prime sponsor of the bill when she was in the senate.
The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is named for the Black teenager
whose killing in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 became a galvanizing
moment in the civil rights era. His grieving mother insisted on an open
casket to show everyone how her son had been brutalized.
"Itís a long time coming," said Parker, who was onstage with Biden
when the president signed the bill. Parker, two years older than Till,
was with his cousin at their relativesí home in Mississippi and
witnessed Tillís kidnapping.
In his remarks, Biden acknowledged the struggle to get a law on the
books, and spoke about how lynchings were used to terrorize and
intimidate Blacks in the United States. More than 4,400 Blacks died by
lynching between 1877 and 1950, mostly in the South, he said.
"Lynching was pure terror, to enforce the lie that not everyone, not
everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal," he said.
Biden, who has many Black men and women in key positions throughout
his administration, stressed that forms of racial terror continue in the
United States, demonstrating the need for an anti-lynching statute.
"Racial hate isnít an old problem ó itís a persistent problem," Biden
said. "Hate never goes away. It only hides."
The new law makes it possible to prosecute a crime as a lynching when
a conspiracy to commit a hate crime leads to death or serious bodily
injury, according to the billís champion, representative Bobby Rush
(D-Ill.). The law lays out a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and
The house approved the bill 422-3 on March 7, with eight members not
voting, after it cleared the senate by unanimous consent. Rush had
introduced a bill in January 2019 but it stalled in the senate after the
house passed by a vote of 410-4.
The NAACP began lobbying for anti-lynching legislation in the 1920s.
A federal hate crime law was passed and signed into law in the 1990s,
decades after the civil rights movement.
"Today we are gathered to do unfinished business," Harris said, "to
acknowledge the horror and this part of our history, to state
unequivocally that lynching is and has always been a hate crime and to
make clear that the federal government may now prosecute these crimes as
"Lynching is not a relic of the past," she added. "Racial acts of
terror still occur in our nation, and when they do, we must all have the
courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account."
Till, 14, had travelled from his Chicago home to visit relatives in
Mississippi in 1955 when it was alleged that he whistled at a white
woman. He was kidnapped, beaten, and shot in the head. A large metal fan
was tied to his neck with barbed wire and his body was thrown into a
river. His mother, Mamie Till, insisted on an open casket at the funeral
to show the brutality he had suffered.
Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, were
accused, but acquitted by an all-white-male jury. Bryant and Milam later
told a reporter that they kidnapped and killed Till.
During a video interview after the bill signing, Parker credited
current events for helping the anti-lynching bill move through congress
and to Bidenís desk. Parker specifically mentioned the police killing of
George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, which sparked
months of protests in the United States and other countries after
videotape of the officerís actions circulated.
He drew a connection between Floyd and Till, saying, "Thatís what
caused Rosa Parks to not give her seat up and that sparked the civil
rights movement, because she thought about Emmett Till."
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