Content warning: this email contains language about lynching and death that some readers may find upsetting.
Sixty-three years ago, 14-year-old Emmett Till was visiting family in Mississippi when he was accused of whistling at a white woman.
Four days later, the woman’s husband and his brother kidnapped Emmett. They tortured and beat him, then shot him in the head. They threw his body — tied to a cotton-gin fan with barbed wire — into the river. The men were tried for murder, but a jury of white men acquitted them. Justice was not served.
It has been 63 years since Emmett Till was murdered, yet Congress has tried — and failed — nearly 200 times to make lynching a federal crime.
But yesterday, we made history.
The bipartisan Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 — a bill I introduced — passed the Senate unanimously. Sixty-three years after Emmett Till was lynched, this is the first time in history that federal anti-lynching legislation has passed in the Senate.
Now, the bill heads to the House of Representatives, where it needs to pass in order to reach the President’s desk and be signed into law.
According to data from the Equal Justice Initiative, lynching was used as an instrument of terror and intimidation 4,084 times during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Lynching is a dark, despicable part of our nation’s history. We must acknowledge that fact, lest we repeat it.
In passing the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, we have offered some long overdue justice and recognition to the victims of lynching crimes. But there’s still more work to do before this bill becomes law.