What the Emmet Till Anti-Lynching Law Means to All Americans

By Sheila Ferguson

Strange Fruit: Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.
– Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday

 

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill was first introduced in the House of Representatives by Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) in 2019, and in the Senate by Kamala Harris (D-California), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in 2020.

The Bill was initially called the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018, defining lynching as “the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intent to commit an act of violence against any person.”

The Bill criminalizes lynching and makes it punishable by up to 30 years in prison. It is named for 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till, lynched by an angry white mob in Mississippi in August 1955. Till was murdered for allegations of menacing a white girl.

As I was driving to work on the morning of March 8, 2022, NPR broadcasted news of the passage of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Law. I shed tears of gratitude. As someone born in the Civil Rights era, I am one of the living African Americans whose family still remembers our Uncle Joe, who lost his life by lynching in the 1930s in small-town South Carolina. The account of the mutilation of his body has been seared into my memory.

It took 122 years, and 200 versions before finally being made into Law. Seven U.S. presidents between 1890 and 1952, asked Congress to pass a federal anti-lynching law. The Bill now awaits President Biden’s signature.

We should remember that the difficulties of passing this Bill reflect the nation’s turbulent racial history. The first anti-lynching Law was introduced in 1900 by North Carolina Representative George Henry and never advanced out of committee.  All subsequent efforts to pass anti-lynching legislation stalled and failed until now.

“Lynchings are violent public acts that white people used to terrorize and control Black people in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in the South. 

Lynching evokes images of Black men and women hanging from trees, but they involved other extreme brutalities, such as torture, mutilation, decapitation, and desecration.”

– History of Racism in America, NAACP

Lynching: An American Tragedy

Historical accounts trace the origins of lynching in the U.S. to the Revolutionary War.  WWI-II, European immigration, fears of communism, and the great migration of blacks to the north and Midwest, fueled instances of lynching. Between 1882 and the 1950s, lynchings resulted in the deaths of 4,700 Americans. The Tuskegee Institute estimates that 2/3 of lynching victims were African Americans. A tactic of control and destruction commonly used by the Ku Klux Klan, it has flourished in America’s climate of racial hatred under Jim Crow laws, Sundown laws, and Voter Suppression activities.

Lynching grows out of such false beliefs as:

  • Black people are inferior to whites
  • Suppressing Black advancement is required to prevent society’s decline
  • White racial purity is to be maintained at all costs

In 1892 Journalist and Anti-Lynching Campaign founder Ida B. Wells reported that the imagery of Black men as a threat of rape to white women drives acts of lynching.

Impact

The federal Anti-Lynching Law prosecutes lynching when a hate crime results in a death or injury. Its unanimous passage informs offenders that the federal government will prosecute these crimes to the fullest extent, correcting a long-held national narrative and making racial terrorism unlawful.

Finally, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill honors the lives and suffering of lynching victims, surviving families, and the African American community.

 

References                                      

https://www.ctpublic.org/2022-03-08/senate-passes-anti-lynching-bill-and-sends-federal-hate-crime-legislation-to-biden

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/35/cosponsors

https://naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/history-lynching-america

The Passage of the Emmet Till Federal Anti-Lynching Act on March 8, 2022, https://www.ctpublic.org/2022-03-08/senate-passes-anti-lynching-bill-and-sends-federal-hate-crime-legislation-to-biden

https://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/essays/ida-b-wells-and-the-campaign-against-lynching

http://·     The History of American Anti-Lynching Legislation: We’re History (werehistory.org)