At a White House Rose Garden signing ceremony, the President didn’t hold back in describing the history of racial violence experienced by Black Americans and its continued impact.
He said, “Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone … belongs in America, not everyone is created equal. Terror, to systematically undermine hard-fought civil rights. Terror, not just in the dark of the night but in broad daylight. Innocent men, women and children hung by nooses in trees, bodies burned and drowned and castrated.”
“Their crimes? Trying to vote. Trying to go to school. Trying to own a business or preach the gospel. False accusations of murder, arson and robbery. Simply being Black,” he continued.
The bill Biden signed into law, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022, is named after a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered by a group of White men in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman in 1955. His murder sparked national outrage and was a catalyst for the emerging civil rights movement.
Reflecting on the “unwritten rules” of behavior Till’s mother passed onto her son, the President said, “That same admonition — too many Black parents still have to use that. They have to tell their children that when it comes to encounters with law enforcement.”
“From the bullets in the back of Ahmaud Arbery to countless other acts of violence, countless victims known and unknown, the same racial hatred that drove the mob to hang a noose brought that mob carrying torches out of the fields of Charlottesville just a few years ago — racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem,” he emphasized.
Advocates have been trying to pass federal anti-lynching legislation for more than a century.
And when Vice President Kamala Harris was a senator, she and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott introduced a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime. The Senate approved the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act in late 2018, but the legislation didn’t make it through the House of Representatives.
During the signing ceremony, Harris noted that since anti-lynching legislation was first introduced in Congress in 1900, “anti-lynching legislation has been introduced to the United States Congress more than 200 times.”
“Lynching is not a relic of the past. Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation. And when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account,” she added.
The ceremony was attended my a wide array of advocates, administration officials and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, Biden thanked stakeholders “for never giving up.”
Only three House Republicans — Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas — voted against the bill. The legislation then passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the time that Congress had tried and failed more than 200 times to outlaw lynching and that the new legislation was “long overdue.”
Till’s cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., said in a statement: “My cousin was a bright, promising 14-year-old from Chicago. My family was devastated that no one was held responsible for the abduction, torture and murder of Emmett. But we are heartened by this new law, which shows that Emmett still speaks in powerful ways to make sure that no one can get away with a racist crime like this ever again.”
This story has been updated with additional developments on Tuesday.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where Emmett Till was from. He was from Chicago.
Biden signs bill making lynching a federal hate crime into law