On Law Day, May 1, Reverend Jesse Jackson held a press conference at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters in Chicago to announce he and two congressmen were going to Washington, D.C. Wednesday to muster up support for a federal anti-lynching bill.
Congress has failed more than 200 times to pass a federal anti-lynching law.
Jackson was joined by Representatives Bobby L. Rush (D-1st) and Danny K. Davis (D-7th); attorneys Lori Lightfoot, Ami Gandhi, Chris Bergin, George Howard and Natalie Howse.
Also joining Reverend Jackson was Airickaca Gordon-Taylor, a cousin to Emmett Till, who was murdered in Money, MS in 1955 by white men, and Sandra Crawford, whose great-grandfather was lynched in Abbeville, S.C. on October 19, 1916.
Crawford and Gordon-Taylor said their families still are seeking closure for the heinous murders of their loved ones.
Crawford explained that her great-grandfather was a farmer who had gone to a store to demand the same price for his cotton that the white man was given. “He was not offered that price and cursed out the storeowner, resulting in his being jailed.”
Crawford said her great-grandfather, Anthony P. Crawford, was taken out of the jail by a mob of white men who lynched him. “To this day, we do not know where he is buried, and we still are trying to get our 500-acres back.” Gordon-Taylor said a federal anti-lynching bill would give her family the closure they’ve been seeking since 1955.
Reverend Jackson said the 1954 Board of Education decision coupled with the 1955 Montgomery boycotts, were effective. “All of a sudden the lynching and Emmett Till become synonymous.”
Reading off a list of those Blacks who were listed in a number of states including Illinois, which had 56, Jackson said there were 4,075 lynchings, that ended in 1950.
“We are going to put together the appropriate legislation,” he said, explaining that he has sent letters of support to President Trump, Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Chuck Schumer.
Rev. Jackson said many are struggling to define what lynching is and gave as an example what happened to Till who allegedly whistled at a white woman.
He told how Representative Rush had to turn himself in to PUSH to avoid being killed by the police, who had killed Black Panther leaders Mark Clark and Fred Hampton as they slept. Representative Rush said the police came to his apartment “and shot my door down.” He was not there. “Had I have been there, they would have lynched me…,” Rush said.
The South was depopulated due to the terror of lynching, Jackson said. Even U.S. soldiers were not safe outside their camps. Some were lynched.
But, Jackson recalled when he was six-years old in Greenville, S.C. he heard a young man had been lynched because a white man was stabbed. A schoolteacher was lynched for telling white youth not to throw rocks at her.
Representative Davis, who grew up in Arkansas, said during his childhood “there was nothing uncommon for elders to point to trees where someone had been hanged,” especially one large tree. “My daddy said ‘this is where they hanged those two boys.’”
In Arkansas, Davis said in 1919 there were race riots near Elaine, because Black farmers were attempting to organize to get a better price for their crops. Davis said more than 200 of them were killed “during this period of unrest and upheaval where bands of whites would just ride in on some Black people….”
“This business of lynching is seriously etched in the history, evolution and development of this country,” said Davis, who vowed to help put together legislative enactment and “to make sure it captures the hearts and minds of the people and we will be able to pass a bill that would make lynching a federal crime in this country. I have no doubt that the mood is right.” Lynching, he said, “has got to stop.”
Attorney Howard said around 1920 his grandfather, John Johnson, was a farmer in Marvel, Ark. His grandfather worked a small farm. When a white man asked him to get everyone working in the field, Johnson told him he did. When asked what about his wife, Johnson said his wife worked only worked for him.
When Howard’s grandfather went to town to get his wares, a group of white men jumped him in the store, and backed him into a corner near a barrel of axe handles. “He worked his way out of the corner, but he had to leave his family and his land. He walked from Marvel, Arkansas to Kenneth, MO in the backwoods, using back roads.” After a year, he contacted his wife who brought their children to him.
That is why Howard became a lawyer, “to bring about a change in America.” Howard said he supports a federal anti-lynching bill, especially given his background. “I am sure we have put people in the ground who perhaps could have discovered medical cures or even become president of the U.S.”