By Lynn Sweet
WASHINGTON — After years of trying, a federal anti-lynching bill named after Emmett Till — and championed by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., — is headed to President Joe Biden’s desk to sign after the Senate unanimously on Monday passed the measure.
Under the legislation, a lynching for the first time in the nation’s history will be defined as a hate crime. A person convicted of a lynching will face federal criminal penalties, including prison.
Rush has been crusading for the anti-lynching law named after Till, the 14-year-old Black youth from Chicago’s South Side who in 1955 was kidnapped and savagely murdered by white men in Mississippi.
Till’s killing was a defining moment in civil rights history due to a key decision by his mother.
Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket for his funeral at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State St., so the world could see his mutilated body and witness the deadly results of race-based violence.
Rush said in a statement, “Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy.
“Perpetrators of lynching got away with murder time and time again — in most cases, they were never even brought to trial. Legislation to make lynching a federal crime and prevent racist killers from evading justice was introduced more than 200 times, but never once passed into law.
“Today, we correct this historic and abhorrent injustice. Unanimous Senate passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U.S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act.”
Rush has been pushing for an anti-lynching law since 2018, with his initial drive going nowhere in the GOP-controlled House.
On Feb. 26, 2020, after the House flipped to the Democrats, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, passed on a 410-4 bipartisan roll call. A few months later, it stalled in the Senate, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blocking the measure, objecting to various provisions in the bill, which was carried by then-Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — now the vice president — and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Two years later — with Rush and Booker continuing to push for the Till measure passage — Paul’s concerns were addressed.
Rush’s “Emmett Till Antilynching Act” passed the House on Feb. 28 on a 422-3 roll call, with three Republicans — Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Tom Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas — the only no votes.
After negotiations with Paul in the Senate, Booker was the chief sponsor with co-sponsors Paul, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.
The measure this time around was so non-controversial that it passed on “unanimous consent” — not even subject to a roll call vote.
At present, the Senate has three Black members — Booker, Scott, and Warnock.
The major difference between the 2020 and 2022 versions is that the bill headed to Biden to sign gives a person convicted of a lynching a potential maximum sentence of 30 years, with the earlier version having a 10-year top sentence.
This version also broadens the circumstances of when a lynching could be prosecuted as a hate crime.
“After more than 200 failed attempts to outlaw lynching, Congress is finally succeeding in taking the long-overdue action by passing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Hallelujah. It’s long overdue,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor.
“The first anti-lynching legislation was introduced a century ago, and after so long, the Senate has now finally addressed one of the most shameful elements of this nation’s past by making lynching a federal crime. That it took so long is a stain—a bitter stain—on America,” Schumer said.
Said Booker in a tweet, “I am overjoyed with the Senate passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. The time is past due to reckon with this dark chapter in our history and I’m proud of the bipartisan support to pass this important piece of legislation.”
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.