President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act into law Tuesday making lynching a federal hate crime.
The law is named for Till, a black teenager who was beaten and shot to death in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman in a grocery store. In response, he was rousted from bed and abducted from a great-uncle’s home in the predawn hours four days later. His brutally beaten body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. A large metal fan had been tied to his neck with barbed wire.
His grieving mother insisted on an open casket to show everyone how her son had been brutalized.
As CBN News reported, Mississippi officials charged Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam with murder. They were later tried and acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men later confessed to kidnapping and murdering Till in an account published in Look Magazine in January 1956.
Till’s death remains a symbol of racial violence against African Americans.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Rev. Wheeler Parker, who was onstage with Biden when the president signed the bill. Parker, two years older than Till, was with his cousin at their relatives’ home in Mississippi and witnessed Till’s kidnapping.
This undated file photo shows Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago boy, whose body was found in the Tallahatchie River near the Delta community of Money, Miss., on Aug. 31, 1955. (AP Photo, File)
The Equal Justice Initiative documented nearly 4,400 lynchings between 1865 and 1950.
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 Rep. George Henry White, the only Black member of Congress at the time.
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 black people in the United States.
“Lynching was pure terror, to enforce the lie that not everyone, not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal,” he said.
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 bill’s sponsor U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL). The law lays out a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and fines.
“Racial hate isn’t an old problem — it’s a persistent problem,” Biden said. “Hate never goes away. It only hides.”