Mar 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Congress nears passing anti-lynching bill after decades of trying

A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago.
A faded photograph is attached to the headstone that marks the gravesite of Emmett Till in Burr Oak Cemetery in Chicago. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Congress is getting close to finally passing anti-lynching legislation after decades of pleas from advocates — and centuries of racial terror in the American South and Southwest.

The big picture: The House last week passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022, a bill to designate lynching as a federal hate crime. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is co-sponsoring a Senate version after holding up a previous anti-lynching proposal.

Details: The bill is named after the 14-year-old Black boy whose brutal 1955 torturing and murder in Mississippi helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.

  • The House version, sponsored by Rep Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) overwhelmingly passed 422–3.
  • According to the bill, a crime could be prosecuted as a lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury.

The intrigue: After holding up a similar bill in 2020, Paul joined Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Raphael Warnock (D-GA) in co-sponsoring a proposal that clears up any opposition.

  • “Strengthening the language of this bill has been my goal all along, and I’m pleased to have worked with Senators Cory Booker and Tim Scott to get this right and ensure the language of this bill defines lynching as the absolutely heinous crime that it is," Paul said in a statement.

Background: Since 1918, Congress has seen more than 200 attempts to pass antilynching legislation in response to the vicious lynchings of Black men and Mexican Americans.

  • Scholars like W. E. B. Du Bois and journalists like Ida B. Wells and Jovita Idar wrote about how lynchings were used as a tool for racial terror to enforce segregation and keep people of color from power.
  • Civil rights groups from the NAACP to LULAC called on Congress to pass antilynching legislation to stop the violence and persecute mobs, who often faced no criminal charges.

What they're saying: “I was eight years old when my mother put the photograph of Emmett Till’s brutalized body that ran in Jet magazine on our living room coffee table, pointed to it, and said, ‘this is why I brought my boys out of Albany, Georgia'," Rush said after the bill passed.

  • "That photograph shaped my consciousness as a Black man in America, changed the course of my life, and changed our nation."
  • Till was killed by white men after a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, accused him of crudely propositioning her. Six decades later, Donham admitted her claims were false.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said in a statement that the bill is as important today as it was decades ago.

Don't forget: The NAACP in the 1930s regularly displayed a flag outside of its national headquarters regularly displayed a flag with the words "A man was lynched yesterday."

Furthering reading: AP Explains: Vile US history of lynching of people of color

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