President Joe Biden has signed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act into law Tuesday, making lynching a hate crime under federal law.
“It was pure terror, to enforce the lie that not everyone — not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal,” Biden said. “Terror, to systematically undermine hard fought civil rights, terror, not just in the dark of night but in broad daylight. Innocent men, women and children, hung by nooses, from trees, bodies burned and drowned, castrated.”
Congress failed to pass anti-lynching legislation over 200 times before the bill finally moved forward this year. The bill is the first legislation of its kind in more than 100 years to be signed into law.
Lynchings were used to murder and terrorize the Black community in the U.S., predominantly in the South, from the 1880s to 1960s, the NAACP states.
Of people who were killed in lynchings, Biden said: “Their crimes? Trying to vote, trying to go to school, trying to own a business, or preach the gospel.”
What the Emmett Till Antilynching Act says
Under the bill, an offense can be prosecuted as a lynching when the offender conspires to commit a hate crime that results in someone’s death or serious bodily injury under this bill. This includes kidnapping and aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to kidnap, abuse, or kill.
A perpetrator can be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for lynching alone, raising the maximum sentence by 20 years from previous versions of the legislation.
Who was Emmett Till and what happened to him in 1955?
On August 28, 1955, Till was brutally murdered by a group of white men for allegedly hitting on a white woman.
Till was an African-American teenager from the south side of Chicago, Illinois.
The 14-year-old was visiting family in Money, Mississippi when he was murdered.
Known as a prankster, Till began bragging to his cousins that he had a white girlfriend back home.
Not believing him the group of boys dared Till to ask out the white woman sitting behind the counter at the country store they were at.
Till took the dare and went into the store to buy some candy and was heard saying, “Bye, baby” as he exited the store.
No one else was inside the store but Carolyn Bryant who was working behind the counter later claimed that he grabbed her, made lewd advances, and whistled at her as he left.
When Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant returned to town a few days later he rushed over to Till’s family house with his half-brother J.W. Milam and forced Till into their car.
After beating him, they drove him down to the Tallahatchie River where they made him carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank and then ordered him to take off his clothes.
The two men beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and then threw his body, tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire, into the river where his body was discovered three days later.
What happened after Emmett Till’s death?
His corpse was so disfigured that his uncle was only able to identify the body by his ring.
Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, famously decided to have an open-casket funeral in Chicago to show the world the horror that Bryant and Milam had inflicted on her son.
Photos of the teenager’s mutilated body in the open-casket where circulated through the media.
Bryant and Milam were put on trial in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi.
The all-white all-male jury deliberated for less than an hour before issuing a verdict of “not guilty” claiming that the prosecution did not prove the identity of the body.
But Bryant and Milam later admitted to the crime in a Look Magazine interview.
Many people throughout the nation were infuriated by the outcome and by the state’s decision not to charge Bryant and Milam with a separate charge of kidnapping.
Almost 60 years later, Tim Tyson, author of the book The Blood Of Emmett Till, revealed that Carolyn Bryant recanted her testimony confessing that the accusations that Till touched, threatened, or harassed her “is not true.”
She admitted “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”
What was the impact of Till’s death?
The murder of Till and the acquittal of Bryant and Milam rocked the nation and were major catalysts for the 1960’s civil rights movement.
Like today’s Mother’s of the Movement, Till’s mother began touring the country on behalf of the NAACP.
Rallies were held around the country hosted by the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.