Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed historic legislation making lynching a federal crime.
The bill is called the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, it passed in the House with a 410-to-four vote.
Emmett Till was the 14-year-old whose brutal, inhumane murder in Mississippi became a civil rights rallying cry in the 1950s.
“In middle school I wrote a paper on the Emmett Till story,” says Shaniqua Crawford with African Heritage Inc. “It really touched me to the core when I saw the pictures. It was powerful then for me. That is one of the most memorable incidents in history for African-Americans.”
Emmett Till, accused of whistling at a white woman in 1955, was taken from his home, beat to death, shot in the head and thrown in the Tallahatchie River, his face unrecognizable to his family.
The men responsible walked free.
Professor of African-American Studies at UW-Oshkosh, Alphonso Simpson says more than 4,000 African-Americans were lynched during Jim Crow segregation.
It was a common practice usually done for sport.
“It involves flogging, it involves burning, cutting off the limbs and detachment of the digits,” says Simpson. “It tour families apart, it tore communities apart.”
Anti-lynching legislation was first brought the legislature about 120 years ago, but failed to pass multiple times – until now.
“Lynching as well as slavery and so many other things are a blemish on the face of the country and we, for so long, have swept these things underneath the rug. It’s time to call these things out,” says Simpson. “It’s time to say okay, now let’s deal with it. You didn’t want to deal with it 120 years ago, you didn’t want to deal with it 100 years ago, you didn’t want to deal with it 20 years ago. We’re dealing with it now.”
Some say this legislation is just the start of change.
“I see this as one of those steps that we’re taking in the right direction,” says Crawford. “I also see it as everyone doing the work to raise awareness around these issues and people are just demanding and standing firm on wanting to see change.”
Anti-lynching legislation has already passed unanimously in the Senate.
The Senate bill, called the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, makes lynching a federal crime by establishing it as a new criminal civil rights violation.
Since the House bill has different titles and numbers, more action will take place before the legislation can go to the president’s desk for signature.