Lynching is finally illegal in the US

The headstone on Emmett Till’s grave – Photo: Robert A. Davis, Chicago Sun-Times, AP

by Toyin Awesu 

Washington, D.C. – The Congressional Black Caucus released the following statement following the Feb. 26 House passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, legislation that would make lynching a crime under federal law.

“Today, under the leadership of Rep. Bobby Rush, Illinois-01, and three other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the House of Representatives finally passed legislation to address the heinous act of lynching by making it a federal crime. In fact, the first bill to outlaw lynching was introduced in 1900.

“Make no mistake: Lynching is domestic terrorism. It is a tool that was used during the 256 years of slavery to terrorize enslaved African Americans and discourage them from rebelling. . . .”

“Lynching was a brutal, violent and often savage public spectacle. They were advertised in newspapers, memorialized in postcards, and souvenirs were made from the victims’ remains. A 1930 editorial in Raleigh News and Observer noted the elation of the audience witnessing a lynching as, “Men joked loudly at the sight of the bleeding body … girls giggled as the flies fed on the blood that dripped from the Negro’s nose.” 

“Make no mistake: Lynching is domestic terrorism. It is a tool that was used during the 256 years of slavery to terrorize enslaved African Americans and discourage them from rebelling. It was used for almost 100 years after the end of slavery to terrorize free African Americans and discourage them from exercising their rights as citizens. Even today, we hear reports of nooses being left on college campuses and workplaces to threaten and harass Black people.

“This is a vicious reminder that the past is never that far away. In fact, the last known lynching was as recent as 25 years ago and only then, for the first time in our nation’s history, was the perpetrator actually convicted and executed. This is an awful part of our history, but it is our history – our American history – and it is important for us to all know and remember it, especially now that we are facing a resurgence of hate crimes in America under the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

Now there is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice to document the known history of lynching and the many reasons why Black people were lynched, such as for making eye contact with a white person, not moving to the other side of the street, or spitting in public.

This bill makes a long overdue change to our laws by finally addressing the issue of lynching for the thousands of African Americans who suffered this heinous fate and the countless more we’ll never know. We thank Rep. Rush for his steadfast leadership in this effort, as well as our Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., for their partnership on the other side of the Capitol.

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act was approved in a vote of 410-4. Only four Republican representatives voted against it: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ted Yoho of Florida and the chamber’s lone independent, Justin Amash of Michigan.

Toyin Awesu, director of communications for the Congressional Black Caucus and Chairwoman Karen Bass, can be reached at toyin.awesu@mail.house.gov.