By Florence Mafomemeh
President Joe Biden signs into law H.R. 55, the “Emmett Till Antilynching Act” in the Rose Garden of at the White House Washington, DC, on March 29, 2022.
In the name of Emmett Till, anyone conspiring to commit an act of lynching that causes death or injury will receive a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. This is the legislation that President Joe Biden signed into law at the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday making lynching a federal crime.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, the President said black people did not commit any crimes to be treated this way. “Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone … belongs in America, not everyone is created equal. Terror, to systematically undermine hard-fought civil rights. Terror, not just in the dark of the night but in broad daylight. Innocent men, women and children hung by nooses in trees, bodies burned and drowned and castrated.”
President Joe Biden speaks after signing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells look on.
“Their crimes? Trying to vote. Trying to go to school. Trying to own a business or preach the gospel. False accusations of murder, arson and robbery. Simply being Black,” Biden continued.
“Racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem,” Biden said. “Hate never goes away, it only hides under the rocks. If it gets a little bit of oxygen, it comes roaring back out, screaming. What stops it? All of us,” The President added.
Vice Presiden Kamala Harris noted that since anti-lynching legislation was first introduced in Congress in 1900, “anti-lynching legislation has been introduced to the United States Congress more than 200 times.”
Harris added that lynching is not a relic of the past. “Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation. And when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account,” she said.
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022 is named after a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered by a group of White men in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a White woman. His murder sparked national outrage and was a catalyst for the emerging civil rights movement.
Lynching was a terror tactic used against Black Americans, particularly in the racially segregated South. From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 people were lynched and 3,446 of them were Black, according to Tuskegee University, which collects records on lynchings.
Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas were the only three House Republicans who voted against the bill which passed the House of Representatives in February. The legislation then passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the time that the new legislation was “long overdue” and that Congress had tried and failed more than 200 times to outlaw lynching.
Rev. Wheeler Parker, the last living relative of Emmett Till to witness his abduction, spoke to NBC’s Kristen Welker about this moment’s significance. “Now, people can no longer get away with things that they got away with in the past.”He said the law “gives power to the people who are seeking justice and trying to do the right thing.”
The legislation was sponsored by Illinois Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush. The passage of the bill thus marks a career-defining achievement for Rush who announced in January that he’ll retire at the end of this Congress after three decades in office and a previous career as a civil rights activist.