President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a bill to make lynching a federal hate crime, which came after Congress failed more than 200 times to pass anti-lynching legislation. Both Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks in the White House Rose Garden to mark the signing.
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act is named after Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was beaten and killed in Mississippi in 1955. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent March 7, one month after the House passed it.
“It was over a hundred years ago in 1900, a North Carolina representative named George Henry White, the son of a slave, the only Black lawmaker in Congress at that time, who first introduced legislation to make lynching a crime,” Mr. Biden said. “Hundreds, hundreds of similar bills have failed to pass. Over the years, several federal hate crime laws were enacted, including one I signed last year to combat COVID-19 hate crimes. But no federal law — no federal law — expressly prohibited lynching, none. Until today.”
Tuskegee University, which tracks the history of lynchings, estimates more than 4,700 people were lynched from 1882 to 1968, the majority of them Black Americans. Lynchings were particularly common in the racially segregated South. Till was one of them. Members of Till’s family stood alongside Mr. Biden on Tuesday.
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“Thank you for never giving up, never ever giving up,” he told them.
Harris also thanked Till’s family and members of Congress for bringing them to this day.
“Lynching — we know it’s a stain on the history of our nation,” Harris said. “Since our founding an in particular in the century following the Civil War, thousands of people in states across our nation were tortured and murdered by vigilantes. They were dragged from their homes. They had ropes wrapped around their necks. They were hanged, burned, drowned and dismembered. Often, as the president said, as their families were forced to watch, and as crowds gathered to spectate. … Lynching was not considered a crime by the federal government.”
Making lynching a federal crime isn’t just about America’s history, said Mr. Biden, who launched his presidential campaign by talking about the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“But the law is not just about the past. It’s about the present. And our future as well,” Mr. Biden said. “From the bullets in the back of Ahmad Arbury, to countless other acts of violence, countless victims known and unknown, the same racial hatred that drove the mob to hang a noose brought that mob carrying torches out of the fields of Charlottesville, just a few years ago. Racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem.”