Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi sixty-five years ago. On Wednesday, Congress passed legislation making lynching a hate crime under federal law.
Rep. Bobby Rush, of Illinois, introduced the bill. The bill is named after Till. Over 120 years ago Congress considered legislation against lynching, but it failed.
On Wednesday the legislation passed by a vote of 410 to 4 and now will be passed on to the White House where it is expected Donald Trump will sign it. If signed the legislation will make lynching a hate crime punishable by up to life in prison.
In 1955, Emmett Till, 14, was visiting family in Mississippi when he was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
The white woman’s husband and brother forced Till to carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River. They then ordered the teen to remove his clothes. They beat him, gouged out his eye, shot him, and then threw his body tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire into the river.
Till’s body was found three days later. He was so disfigured that he could only be identified by an initial ring that he was wearing. Law enforcement wanted the body buried quickly, but Till’s mother requested that his body be sent to Chicago.
His mother held an open casket funeral so everyone could see what had been to her son. The two men were charged in his murder, but a white jury found them not guilty.
Rush represents the district that includes Till’s former home. He stated that he hoped the bill belatedly achieved justice for Till as well as the 4,000 other victims of lynching.
Till’s murder shocked the entire nation and created a civil rights movement.
“The importance of this bill cannot be overstated,” stated Rush. ”From Charlottesville to El Paso, we are still being confronted with the same violent racism and hatred that took the life of Emmett and so many others. The passage of this bill will send a strong and clear message to the nation that we will not tolerate this bigotry. ”
Rep. Bennie Thompson represents the district where Till was abducted and murdered. He called the new anti-lynching bill long overdue. He added: “No matter the length of time, it is never too late to ensure justice is served.”
Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California called lynching a “lasting legacy of slavery.”
“Make no mistake, lynching is terrorism,” Bass said. ”While this reign of terror has faded, the most recent lynching (in the United States) happened less than 25 years ago.”
Kamala Harris applauded the legislation. “Lynchings were horrendous, racist acts of violence,” Harris said in a statement. “For far too long Congress has failed to take a moral stand and pass a bill to finally make lynching a federal crime. This justice is long overdue.”
Corey Booker also spoke out on the legislation stating that “a pernicious tool of racialized violence, terror and oppression” and “a stain on the soul of our nation.”