More than two centuries into the American experiment, lynching is finally, officially a federal hate crime. President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law in a ceremony at the White House, assigning enhanced penalties for a heinous act that defined the height of racialized violence in the 20th century and beyond.
Lynching needs no explanation: historical archives, books and even newspaper articles are filled with graphic depictions of Black people tortured and killed as part of the public spectacle. The bill itself is named for a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, tortured, maimed and killed in Mississippi in 1955 by white men who were never convicted of a crime.
But perhaps just as horrifically, it took more than 200 attempts to get a federal anti-lynching law passed over the last 122 years.
From the Washington Post
The legislation would amend the U.S. Code to designate lynching a hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. More than 4,000 people, mostly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States from 1882 to 1968, in all but a handful of states. Ninety-nine percent of perpetrators escaped state or local punishment, according to Rush’s office.
Lawmakers tried, and failed, to pass anti-lynching bills nearly 200 times. The earliest such attempt came in 1900, when Rep. George Henry White (R-N.C.), then the country’s only Black member of Congress, stood on the floor of the House and read the text of his unprecedented measure, which would have prosecuted lynchings at the federal level. The bill later died in committee.
The measure’s final iteration was sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Sen. Cory Booker (R-NJ) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).