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Rep. Bobby Rush’s Emmett Till Antilynching Act Passes U.S. Senate Unanimously

Legislation negotiated and sponsored by Rush passed the House last Monday, now heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

On Monday, March 7, 2022, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act (H.R. 55), legislation sponsored by U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), passed the United States Senate unanimously. The legislation previously passed the House of Representatives on February 28 by a vote of 422–3. Three House Republicans voted against the bill: U.S. Representatives Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and Chip Roy (R-Texas). The legislation now heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act would, for the first time in U.S. history, designate lynching as a federal hate crime. Despite more than 200 attempts since 1900 to codify federal antilynching legislation, it has never previously been done. More than 6,500 Americans were lynched between 1865 and 1950, according to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative.

“Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy,” said Rep. Rush. “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. 

 “I am glad to see this bill receive unanimous support in the Senate — and near-unanimous support in the House of Representatives — and look forward to President Biden signing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law very, very soon. At this moment, I am reminded of Dr. King’s famous words: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’”

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act first passed the House of Representatives for the first time 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 has worked closely with the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate throughout the past year to reach agreement on the text of the legislation.

Under the bill that passed the Senate today and the House last week, a crime can be prosecuted as a lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury. The legislation 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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