US President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a bill to make lynching a federal hate crime – more than 100 years after such legislation was first proposed.
Anti-lynching law Emmett Till is named after the black teenager whose murder in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 became a galvanizing moment in the civil rights era.
Till, 14, had traveled from his Chicago home to visit relatives in Mississippi when it was alleged he had stalked a white woman. Till was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head. A large metal fan was tied around his neck with barbed wire before his body was thrown into a river. His grieving mother insisted on a coffin being opened to show everyone how her son had been brutalized.
Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, JW Milam, were charged but acquitted by an all-white jury. Bryant and Milam later told a reporter that they kidnapped and killed Till.
Biden acknowledged the long delay in legislation during Rose Garden remarks to lawmakers, administration officials and civil rights advocates, highlighting how violent deaths of black Americans have been used to intimidate them and prevent them from simply vote because of their skin color.
“Thank you for never giving up, never giving up,” the president said. “The lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone, not everyone, belongs in America, not everyone is created equal.”
But the president stressed that forms of racial terror continue to exist in the United States, creating the need for a law.
“Racial hatred is not an old problem — it’s a persistent problem,” Biden said. “Hate never goes away. It only hides.”
The new law allows a crime like lynching to be prosecuted when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily harm, according to the bill’s champion, Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush. The law provides for a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and fines.
Anti-lynching bill failed nearly 200 times
The House approved Bill 422-3 on March 7, with eight members failing to vote, after clearing the Senate unanimously. Rush had also introduced a bill in January 2019 that the House passed 410-4 before that measure stalled in the Senate.
Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation more than 120 years ago. He 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.
The NAACP began pushing for anti-lynching legislation in the 1920s. A federal hate crimes law was finally passed and signed into law in the 1990s, decades after the civil rights movement.