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Emmett Till Antilynching Bill passes U.S. Senate

Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, circa 1953.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift of the Mamie Till Mobley family
Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, circa 1953.

A bill that classifies lynching as a federal hate crime, is heading to President Joe Biden’s desk after unanimously passing the Senate Monday night.

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching act would make lynching punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Congressman Kweisi Mfume, who represents Baltimore City, told WYPR he is relieved to see federal action taken on racist violence.

“Lynching is, and always has been an American weapon of terror,” he said. “It has always resulted in people who are nonwhite being subjected to one of the most hideous crimes and events that could ever take place.”

He added, however, he is troubled that the action took so long. Roughly 200 antilynching bills have been introduced since 1900.

“Why are we just now doing what we should have done many, many years ago? And the fact that this is named after Emmett Till… His instruction to all of us that we just can't conveniently ignore the past, and focus only on the present.”

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman.

Mfume said he hopes this moment will show Americans they need to reckon with all parts of the nation’s history.

“We've got to look at where we have been as a nation,” he said. “And importantly, understand that that should be a guidepost as to where we ought to go, that everybody should be treated equally based on their humanity, not based on their race, their ethnicity, their religion, or their zip code. And that the story of Emmett Till has to be told in years to come, so that we will never ever go through that again.”

Callan Tansill-Suddath is a State House Reporter for WYPR, where she covers the General Assembly.