After more than a century of use as a weapon of racial terror and genocide, lynching is poised to be recognized as a federal hate crime. Over the past century, more than 200 similar bills have been introduced, but with the legislation’s unanimous passage in the United States Senate yesterday, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is now one signature short of declaring that weaponized racial terror has no place in this country.
The term lynching conjures an image of a rope hastily thrown over a tree limb in the South, but the brutality of this act was far more diverse and far more widespread. For more than a century, white supremacists have used it to publicly brutalize and terrorize communities in an effort to intimidate Black Americans into accepting they are unworthy of humanity. The human toll exceeds 4,000 souls. The psychological toll exceeds six generations.
Until we all accept the value of each human, until we secure inclusive freedom for all, Black Americans and marginalized communities will never find peace. But the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act brings us closer to justice for all. It acknowledges a long, dark chapter in our nation’s history. And though it cannot atone for the sins of our past, this legislation can rededicate us in our commitment that all people are created equal and are guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center applauds Congress for this affirmation of our nation’s principles, and we celebrate the legislation’s namesake, Emmett Till, who once again has catalyzed a nation toward justice.