U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (right) watches as President Joe Biden signs the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law at a White House Rose Garden ceremony late last month. – Photo courtesy of Congressman Rush’s Office

U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (right) watches as President Joe Biden signs the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law at a White House Rose Garden ceremony late last month. – Photo courtesy of Congressman Rush’s Office

‘A day of enormous consequence’

Rush watches Biden sign Emmett Till law

From staff reports

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, legislation sponsored and negotiated by U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-1st), was signed into law last week by President Joe Biden at a White House Rose Garden ceremony.

The act passed the U.S. House on Feb. 28 by a 422-3 vote and passed the U.S. Senate unanimously on March 7.

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U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (right) watches as President Joe Biden signs the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law at a White House Rose Garden ceremony late last month. – Photo courtesy of Congressman Rush’s Office

The act designates lynching as a federal crime — specifically, a federal hate crime — for the first time in U.S history and defines lynching as a conspiracy to commit a hate crime that results in death or serious bodily injury. More than 6,500 Americans were lynched between 1865 and 1950, according to a recent report from the Equal Justice Initiative.

Rush, who stood near Biden as the act was signed, offered comments.

“This is a historic day and a day of enormous consequence for our nation,” he said. “After more than 100 years and 200 attempts, lynching is finally a federal crime in America. When I think of what this means — that we can finally provide justice for the victims of this heinous act; that we will be able to reckon with our nation’s legacy of lynching; and that we will, once and for all, send a strong message that we will not stand for these abhorrent crimes — I am elated.

“The enactment of my bill means that the full weight and power of the United States government can be brought to bear against those who commit this vicious crime,” Rush continued. “We will no longer face the question of if a perpetrator of lynching will be brought to justice — with the President’s signature today, we have eliminated that possibility moving forward.”

Rush said he was eight years old (in 1955) when his mother put the photograph of Emmett Till’s brutalized body that ran in Jet magazine on their living room coffee table, pointed to it, and said, “This is why I brought my boys out of Albany, Georgia.” Rush said seeing the photo “shaped my consciousness as a black man in America and changed the course of my life.

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U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-1st) speaks last week, with a photo of Emmett Till in the background. –Photo courtesy of Congressman Rush’s office

“I am thinking of Emmett Till, who would have been 80 years old today,” the congressman added. “His brutal lynching ignited the civil rights movement and a generation of civil rights activists. It had a ripple effect that we still feel today; it began a worldwide movement to reckon with freedom, justice, and equality all around the world.”

Rush said Till “meant so much to the City of Chicago. The signing of this bill is a victory for the City of Chicago, a victory for America, and a victory for Black America, in particular. 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.”

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act first passed the House of Representatives during the 116th Congress — in February 2020 — with overwhelming bipartisan support but was blocked in the Senate. Rep. Rush reintroduced the Emmett Till Antilynching Act on the first day of the 117th Congress and worked closely with the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate throughout the past year to reach agreement on the text of the legislation.

H.R. 55, the legislation that was signed into law today, differs from the antilynching legislation passed during the 116th Congress in two primary ways:

  • The maximum sentence for a perpetrator convicted under the Antilynching Act is 30 years; the previous version of the legislation set the maximum sentence at 10 years. These charges would be in addition to any other federal criminal charges the perpetrators may face.
  • The legislation applies to a broader range of circumstances. Under the legislation passed last Congress, a crime could only be prosecuted as a lynching under very specific circumstances, such as if it took place while the victim was engaging in a federally protected activity.

Rush is also the lead sponsor of bipartisan legislation that would award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley (H.R. 2252) and legislation that would direct the Postmaster General to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Mamie Till-Mobley (H.R. 4581).

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