Congress has finally made lynching a federal hate crime punishable by life in prison, 65 years after the lynching murder of Emmett Till, whom the bill was named after. The measure was approved on Wednesday (Feb. 26) in a 410 to 4 vote.
The passing of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Bush (D-Ill.), ends more than a century of failed efforts to pass anti-lynching legislation. The bill was first introduced in 1900 by Rep. George Henry White, who was the sole Black member of Congress at the time. The Senate unanimously approved the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act in 2018.
“Today is a historic day for this U.S. House of Representatives, this Congress, and the American people,” Bush said in a statement. “Being from Chicago, the death of Emmet Till sent shockwaves through my community and personally affected me and my family. However, his death would not be in vain, for it was the spark that ignited the long arc of the civil right movement, leading us to this very moment.”
Till was viciously murdered on Aug. 28, 1955. The 14-year-old Chicago native was visiting family in Mississippi when he was abducted and killed by two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, after being accused of flirting with Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, who admitted to lying about the story decades after Till’s murder. The men tied the teen up, brutality beat him and threw his body in a river. After being acquitted by an all white jury, Roy and Milam admitted to murdering in a 1956 interview.
“With the passage of the bill we correct a historical injustice, based on a lie, that took the life of this young man,” added Bush. “We also bring justice to the over 4000 victims of lynching, most of them African-American, who have had their lives tragically, and horrifically cut short at the hands of racist mobs and hate-filled hordes. After 120 years, and 200 failed attempts, the House finally positions itself on the right side of history, outlawing the heinous act of lynching once and for all.”