In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Senate has passed the long-awaited Emmett Till Antilynching Act. The bill, which has been introduced in almost 200 different forms throughout recent history, now awaits President Biden’s signature into action.
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act (H.R. 55) will make lynching in most forms a federal hate crime, punishable with fines and sentencing of up to thirty years. The act, which also designates attempted lynching as a federal hate crime, intends to expand the basis for court action on racially-motivated violence. Although the bill is sadly far too late for many victims of previous hate crimes, it will serve to acknowledge the atrocities of America’s history of lynching and assist victims in the eyes of the court, helping sentence those involved in racially-motivated attacks for their inhumane actions.
Bill H.R. 55 takes the name of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy who was tortured, mutilated, and killed in Money, Mississippi, 1955, at the hands of racially-motivated White attackers— all of whom went unpunished for their actions. Till’s death, which was deep-rooted in a larger trend of systemic racism and segregation of African-Americans in the Jim Crow South, sparked increased levels of civil rights activism across the United States and brought the true extent of the nation’s racial issues to light.
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act hopes to designate acts similar to the unjust and inhumane treatment Till endured as a federal hate crime. However, the bill has faced several challenges throughout its delayed passage. Why was this obviously important bill, which has now passed unanimously, continually rejected?
The bill was first brought to the Senate floor during 2019 by then-Senator Kamala Harris. If a bill were to receive unanimous consent in the Senate, traditional procedure would be bypassed, but if one senator opposed the passage of the bill, it would be rejected. That was unfortunately the case with the Antilynching Act in its earliest voting procedures. With only one dissenter, the bill failed in 2020 and again when it entered the Senate in June.
Some Senators were angered as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul stalled the passage of the bill. Paul argued that the bill was not clear, and as such would cause continued injustice not for victims, but for the sentencing of minor criminals. The Senator acted in what many believed was an obstruction of justice for the victims involved.
Nonetheless, after failing with Senator Paul’s continued stalemate, the bill was reintroduced to the House in 2022. The House of Representatives passed the vote in a 422-3 majority and moved the bill along to the Senate. The Senate then passed the bill without any dissent, and now awaits President Biden’s prompt signature into law.
Although the bill’s passage was stalled and long overdue, the designation of lynching as a federal hate crime is crucial in reflecting on the nation’s reprehensible treatment of Emmett Till and ensuring that justice is served to victims of similar hate crimes. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act is an important step in affirming that those who engage in racially-motivated violence will face retribution for their reprehensible actions.
Fandos, Nicholas. “Frustration and Fury as Rand Paul Holds Up Anti-Lynching Bill in Senate -
The New York Times.” The New York Times - Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos, New York Times Publishing, 5 June 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/us/politics/rand-paul-anti-lynching-bill-senate.html.
Zaslav, Alli. “Senate Passes Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022 - CNNPolitics.” CNN, CNN,
8 Mar. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/07/politics/senate-passes-antilynching-law/index.html.
Text - H.R.55 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Emmett Till
About the Author:
Georgia Keeler is a sophomore student outside of Boston. She is the secretary of a political debate club, a student council representative, a STEM teaching assistant, a Civis UnPlugged Fellow, and part of more clubs than she should be. When not debating, writing, reading, or singing, she can be found with her friends and working through piles of homework.