President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act on Tuesday, march 29,2022 making lynching a federal hate crime in the United States, over 100 years after other attempts were made to pass anti-lynching legislation. According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, lynching means “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction.”
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act is named after an African-American teenager named Emmett Till. While visiting family in Money, Mississippi, someone claimed that the 14-year-old whistled at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant at a store in 1955. Emmett was later kidnapped, brutally attacked, then thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Two white men, who were accused of Emmett’s murder, were not charged with the murder. No other individuals were indicted or prosecuted for the crime. The Department of Justice (DOJ) initially reopened the case in 2004 to explore other subjects who may have been involved in the murder.
Although the first investigation was closed, another one was opened. The impetus of the revived issue was due to a 2017 book quote which appeared in Timothy B. Tyson’s book, “The Blood of Emmett Till.” Contents included in it sparked a question about the veracity of Bryant’s story, according to the Associated Press.
A second investigation led to another dead end. The cold case was closed, per confirmed information provided by The Department of Justice in a 2021 press release.
In the midst of dizzying starts and stops tied to Emmett’s unfortunate story, justice was never served for the loss of his life. Mamie Till-Mobley—who was Emmett’s mother— pushed relentlessly for justice. She opted to hold an open casket for her son’s funeral to let others see his badly disfigured face and swollen body, in 1955. Photos of the teenager in his coffin were published in Jet magazine. The Civil Rights Movement was set ablaze because of it.
Pieces of historical injustice resurfaced when President Biden provided remarks in the White House Rose Garden, during the Signing of H.R. 55, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.
“Over the years, several federal hate crime laws were enacted, including one I signed last year to combat COVID-19 hate crimes. But no federal law — no federal law expressly prohibited lynching. None. Until today,” Biden said.
The president of the United States also stated that a historian named Bryan Stevenson’s research revealed that “between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 Black people were murdered by lynching.”
Dr. Joanne Martin, co-founder of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, is a local icon whose insight helps to understand the significance of the legislation’s passage, after lawmaker’s long standing refusal to take formal action. To date, approximately 145 life-size, historical and contemporary, wax figures representing personalities of African ancestry are also on display at The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.
“You still have people who even fought against getting passage of this kind of legislation [The Emmett Till Antilynching Act]. People who don’t understand the connection between an Emmett Till and Ahmaud Arbery and so forth, and the ways in which we’re still battling the modern day lynching of our people. But it does pay honor to those people who fought for us to get past this moment, when we’re still decrying and crying for our youth, and our men, and our people not to be lynched in America.”
Martin mentioned that the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) fought against segregation and mainly lynching. Historical figures such as Ida B. Wells worked from the trenches to bring justice and equity and civil rights. Martin reminded that Wells was one of the founders of the NAACP.
Ironically, Martin holds another piece to a historical puzzle. The Baltimore-based museum she leads is in possession of a Senate-issued apology which was written in 2005. The document acknowledges lack of legislation for making lynching a crime. Politician Hillary Clinton and Biden, who was a senator at that time, were among individuals who signed it, according to Martin. She also explained that the document was presented to The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum by former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana. Martin explained that Landrieu asked if the museum wanted the item displayed there.
“It’s a long time coming,” Martin said, referring to lynching finally becoming a hate crime.
Please visit www.greatblacksinwax.org to learn more about The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum’s tours, exhibitions, and events.