House passes bill to make lynching a federal hate crime

Scott Olson

WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation Monday that would make lynching a federal crime after lawmakers failed to pass anti-lynching bills more than 200 times since 1900.

Lawmakers approved the Emmett Till Antilynching Act in a 422-3 vote, with Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Andrew S. Clyde, R-Ga., voting against the measure.

The bill was named after Till, a 14-year-old Black teenager from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and shot in the head in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in a Mississippi store.

Under the legislation, introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., a crime can be prosecuted as lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury, and perpetrators could face up to 30 years in prison.

"By passing my Emmett Till Antilynching Act, the House has sent a resounding message that our nation is finally reckoning with one of the darkest and most horrific periods of our history, and that we are morally and legally committed to changing course," Rush said in a statement following the vote Monday.

Rush said he was eight years old when his mother "put the photograph of Emmett Till’s brutalized body that ran in Jet magazine on our living room coffee table, pointed to it, and said, ‘this is why I brought my boys out of Albany, Georgia.’"

"That photograph shaped my consciousness as a Black man in America, changed the course of my life, and changed our nation," he added. "But modern-day lynchings like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery make abundantly clear that the racist hatred and terror that fueled the lynching of Emmett Till lynching are far too prevalent in America to this day."

Rush cited a report by the Equal Justice Initiative that found nearly 6,500 lynchings happened in the U.S. between 1865 and 1950.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Monday that "hateful attacks are not yet a relic of the past." She urged the Senate to take up the legislation immediately and send it to President Joe Biden's desk.