Emmett Till Antilynching Act heads to Biden's desk

Congress failed to pass anti-lynching legislation over 200 times.

March 8, 2022, 10:58 AM

The Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, which would make lynching a hate crime under federal law, now heads to President Biden's desk.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill on Monday.

Congress has failed to pass anti-lynching legislation over 200 times. The bill is the first legislation of its kind in more than 100 years that has a chance at being signed into law.

PHOTO: Emmett Till is shown lying on his bed in this undated photo.
Emmett Till is shown lying on his bed in this undated photo.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images, FILE

"While this will not erase the horrific injustices to which 10s of 1000s of African Americans have been subjected over the generations, nor fully heal the terror inflicted on countless others, it is an important step forward as we continue the work of confronting our nation's past in pursuit of a brighter and more just future," said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor.

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. The Equal Justice Initiative, a racial justice advocacy and research organization, has documented nearly 6,500 racial terror lynchings in America between 1865 and 1950.

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.

PHOTO: Young Emmett Till is photographed wearing a hat.
Young Emmett Till is photographed wearing a hat.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images, FILE

The act is named after 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was kidnapped, beaten and lynched in Mississippi in August 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

His death remains a symbol of racism and brutality against Black people in the U.S.

"If Emmett Till was still with us, his family might call him granddad," Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said in a tweet. "Tonight, after decades of delay, Congress passed the bill named for him. When President Biden signs it, lynching will become a federal hate crime. I’m thinking of our ancestors and our babies tonight."

Black Americans remain the most targeted group in the U.S. when it comes to reported hate crimes. They made up 2,871 of the 8,263 reported hate crimes in 2020 -- or 34% -- according to the FBI.

"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," said Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., after the House passed the bill.

ABC News' Rachel Scott contributed to this report.

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