WHY DID IT TAKE 120 YEARS TO PASS AN ANTI-LYNCHING ACT?
The overwhelming vote last week in the House of Representatives to designate lynching as a federal hate crime shows just how sluggish the pace of change can be in America.
The House voted 410-4 on Feb. 26 to designate lynching as a federal hate crime, 120 years after the first anti-lynching legislation was proposed in Congress.
Called the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, the bill was named for the 14-year-old boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by white supremacists. Bill sponsor Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) likened lynching to the “French use of the guillotine, the Roman use of crucifixion, and the British use of drawing and quartering as a tool of terrorism” in a floor speech before the vote.
“For too long, federal law against lynching has remained conspicuously silent,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged that it is irresponsible to “deny that racism, bigotry, and hate still exist in America,” citing recent racial violence in Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, Va., and El Paso, Texas.
“This legislation will not erase the stain of lynching and racial violence, but it will help shine the light of truth on the injustices of the past so that we can heal our past and build a better, safer future for all of our children,” she said before the vote.
Even as racial violence has evolved from public lynchings to various forms of hate crimes, it is critical that Congress publicly corrects its historical mistakes.
"This legislation is enormously important in terms of finally, if belatedly, putting Congress on record against lynching and making it a federal crime,” Pfeifer said. “Much better late than never.”