Here's the good news: By a vote of 410-4, the House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday to classify lynching as a federal hate crime. The bad news, of course, is that this happened in the year 2020, meaning that lynching has somehow not already been designated a hate crime in the U.S.
The passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, introduced by Illinois Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush, comes 65 years after 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Black child, was murdered by a group of white men in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman (his accuser later recanted her accusation that Till had made lewd comments toward her). Till's death, and the photographs of his badly mutilated face as seen during his open-casket service (done at his mother's request), helped galvanize the public and marked a turning point in the civil rights movements of the 1950s and '60s.
"Lynching was commonly used for 256 years during the period of enslavement and for almost 100 years after slavery, well into the 1950s," Democratic Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.) told her House colleagues ahead of the vote. "And frankly, even today periodically you will hear news stories of nooses being left on college campuses, in work locker rooms to threaten and terrorize African Americans. A vicious reminder that the past is never that far away."
Tuesday's historic House vote is not, however, the first time Congress has attempted to make lynching a federal hate crime. In 1900, the nation's sole Black congressman at the time, Rep. George Henry White, introduced America's first anti-lynching bill, which never made it out of committee.
"More than 100 years have passed since Congressman George Henry White introduced the first antilynching legislation,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement last week announcing Wednesday's vote. “Next week, we will finally take concrete steps to address this dark and shameful chapter in American history by bringing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act to a vote on the House floor."
In 2018, a similar anti-lynching bill passed the Senate, but failed to pass the House. Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), the sponsor of that bill, applauded Wednesday's vote, writing in a statement that "for far too long Congress has failed to take a moral stand and pass a bill to finally make lynching a federal crime. ... I applaud the House of Representatives for bringing this important legislation to the floor."
"This justice is long overdue," Harris added.
According to the language of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, anybody "acting as part of any collection of people, assembled for the purpose and with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person, causes death to any person" would be subject to life in prison.
The bill would still need to be signed by President Trump before it becomes law. The sole nay votes Wednesday were from Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), and Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), Thomas Massie (Ky.), and Ted Yoho (Fla.).