Biden signs Emmett Till anti-lynching bill: Rep. Bobby Rush championed measure for years

“Lynching is not a relic of the past,” said Vice President Kamala Harris.

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President Joe Biden signs the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington.

Patrick Semansky/AP

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till anti-lynching bill on Tuesday, invoking, during a Rose Garden ceremony, the lives of the Chicago youth whose lynching helped spur the modern civil rights movement and Ida B. Wells, the Chicago journalist who crusaded against lynching in the years after the Civil War.

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, championed for years by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., whose district sweeps in parts of Chicago’s South Side, defines lynching as a federal hate crime for the first time.

The bill was more than 100 years in the making, with Congress not acting as race related hate crimes persisted.

One of the latest, Biden noted, was Ahmaud Arbery, the Black jogger murdered in Georgia in 2020.

“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,” Biden said.

“Lynching is not a relic of the past,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who as a California senator was the lead on anti-lynching measures with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

“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 said.

The measure is named for Till, the Black youth from Chicago who, at the age of 14, was brutally murdered in 1955 by white men while visiting relatives in Mississippi.

Till’s cousin, Wheeler Parker Jr. 83, of south suburban Summit, who was with Till when white men abducted Till from the house where they were staying, was at the bill signing, along with about 10 members from Till’s extended family, including Annie Wright, of suburban Countryside, and Bertha Thomas, from Auburn Gresham, on the city’s South Side.

Biden paid a tribute to Wells’ relentless pursuit of an anti-lynching law at the top of his speech, while Chicago native Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Wells, looked on.


President Joe Biden speaks after signing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells look on.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Wells, Biden said, was at the White House in 1898 to make the case for a federal anti-lynching law, which was never to be until Tuesday.

Duster, when she spoke, said her great-grandmother — born to slaves in 1862 in Mississippi and who would become a renowned civil rights activist and journalist — once said, “Our country’s national crime is lynching.”

Since Wells was at the White House 124 years ago, Duster said there have been more than 200 attempts to get anti-lynching legislation enacted.

In this era, hate crimes accusations have gained traction because the ubiquity of cameras — either handheld devices or security lenses — provide visual testimony.

Till’s lynching on Aug. 28, 1955, became a turning point in civil rights history because a key decision by his mother gave credibility that Till was a victim of lynching.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket for his funeral at Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State St., so the world could see Till’s mutilated body and witness the deadly results of race-based violence.

Biden said between 1877 and 1950 “more than 4,400 Black people were murdered by lynching, most in the south, but some in the north as well. That’s a lot of folks, man, and a lot of silence for a long time.

“Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone, not everyone, belongs in America, not everyone is created equal.

“...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.”

Rush, who is serving his last term, caps his congressional career with the Emmett Till Act becoming law. He pushed for the measure for years.

In a statement, Rush said, “Emmett Till meant so much to the City of Chicago. The signing of this bill is a victory for the City of Chicago, a victory for America, and a victory for Black America, in particular.”

I asked Parker, the pastor at the Argo Temple Church of God in Christ, what being at the White House for the Till bill signing meant to him.

Said Parker, Till “didn’t die in vain. He still speaks from the grave.”


This family handout photograph — taken in Chicago, date unknown — shows Mamie Till-Mobley and her son, Emmett Till, whose lynching in 1955 became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

Associated Press

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