Activists have been attempting to pass this legislation for more than a century!
Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter attended the White House signing of the landmark Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, CNN reports.
In 1898, civil rights activist, pioneering journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett traveled to the White House “to make a case for the anti-lynching law.” Since then, there have been more than 200 attempts by Congress to outlaw lynching.
Most recently, then Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Tim Scott attempted to approve the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act in 2018, the bill failing to get approval in the House of Representatives. Then in 2019, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush introduced a similar bill, the House passing it but it failing in the Senate. Now, finally after a century of attempting to outlaw the horrific crime, President Joe Biden has officially signed a bill into law that makes lynching a federal hate crime, calling it the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022.
Till was just 14-years-old when he was tortured and murdered by a mob of white men in Mississippi in 1955. His murder sparked national outrage but Till’s killer were never brought to justice. Lynching was a common practice in the South, used as an act of terror to scare Black Americans. According to Tuskegee University, 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 to 1968, 3,446 of them being Black.
“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…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, President Biden during the signing of the bill.
The President continued, pointing out that the law is just as needed in 2022 as it was in 1882. “From the bullets in the back of Ahmaud Arbery to countless other acts of violence, countless victims known and unknown, the same racial hatred that drove the mob to hang a noose brought that mob carrying torches out of the fields of Charlottesville just a few years ago — racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem,” added Biden.
Joining the ceremony were a number of longtime activists including Rep. Rush, Till’s cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., and Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Biden made mention of Duster, noting that it was a full circle moment for her family given how passionate Wells-Barnett was about this very law.
After Biden signed the landmark bill into law, Duster took to the White House podium to give a speech about her great-grandmother’s legacy. She shared:
“My brother Dan and I are honored to be here and represent our great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who once said ‘Our country’s national crime is lynching.’ She was born enslaved in 1862 Holly Springs, Mississippi, the same state where 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched 93 years later. She became one of the first investigative and most prominent journalists and civil rights activists of her time. She carefully chronicled names, dates, locations, and excuses used to justify lynching… Through her writing and speaking, she exposed uncomfortable truths that upset the status quo.”
Rev. Parker noted that while he will never feel solace around his cousin’s murder, the new law provides hope that something so heinous will never happen to another family again.
“My cousin was a bright, promising 14-year-old from Chicago. My family was devastated that no one was held responsible for the abduction, torture and murder of Emmett. But we are heartened by this new law, which shows that Emmett still speaks in powerful ways to make sure that no one can get away with a racist crime like this ever again,” he said.
The bill was passed in the House, only three Republican reps voting against it. It passed unanimously in the Senate. Rep. Rush echoed Parker’s sentiments, saying, “I am so proud that we have come together — in a bipartisan fashion — to enact a law that will ensure lynchings are always punished as the barbaric crimes they are.”
In the words of the late Ida B. Wells-Barnett, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
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