Senator Bobby Rush speaks during a news conference about the "Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act" on Capitol Hill in Washington, on February 26, 2020. Emmett Till, pictured at right, was a 14-year-old African-American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store. Congress has given final approval to legislation that for the first time would make lynching a federal hate crime in the US. Image Credit: AP

Washington:  US lawmakers have passed a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime, after more than a century of failed attempts to introduce such legislation.

The bill is named after Emmett Till, an African-American teenager whose brutal killing galvanised the US civil rights movement in the 1950s.

90% of perpetrators escaped punishment
More than 4,000 people, mostly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States from 1882 to 1968, in all but a handful of states. Ninety-nine per cent of perpetrators escaped state or local punishment, according to Rush’s office.
The House’s earliest attempt to pass anti-lynching legislation came in 1900, when Rep. George Henry White, Republican-North Carolina, then the country’s only Black member of Congress, stood on the floor of the House and read the text of his unprecedented measure, which would have prosecuted lynchings at the federal level. The bill later died in committee.
Years later, Rep. Leonidas Dyer, Republican-Montana, introduced an anti-lynching measure that passed the House but was filibustered in the Senate by Southern Democrats, many of whom opposed it in the name of “states’ rights.”
In 2005, the Senate approved a resolution apologising for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation. Then-Sen. Mary Landrieu, Democrat-Louisiana, pointed to the impact of the chamber’s decades of inaction, declaring that “there may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility.”

The Senate voted unanimously on Monday to pass the bill, which will now be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The maximum sentence under the law will be 30 years.

“After 100+ years & 200+ failed attempts to outlaw lynching, the Senate took long-overdue action by passing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“This is an important step, but that it’s taken so long is a stain on America,” he tweeted.

Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, was abducted and murdered in August 1955 while visiting relatives in the southern state of Mississippi.

His mutilated body was found three days later in a local river.

Till’s mother famously insisted that her son’s remains be displayed in an open casket to show the world what had been done to her boy.

Till was murdered several days after a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, alleged that he had propositioned her in a store and touched her on the arm, hand and waist.

Two white Mississippi men, Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant’s husband, and J.W. Milam, his half-brother, were arrested for Till’s murder but acquitted by an all-white jury.

The pair later admitted in a magazine interview that they had killed the boy.

Roy Bryant died in 1994 and Milam died in 1981.

The Justice Department reopened its probe into Till’s murder in 2018 after Carolyn Bryant, now known as Carolyn Donham, had recanted portions of her testimony in interviews with an author of a book on the case.

But the Justice Department said Donham “denied to the FBI that she ever recanted her testimony and provided no information beyond what was uncovered during the previous federal investigation.”

In December, the department ended its investigation into the murder.

“The government’s reinvestigation found no new evidence suggesting that either the woman or any other living person was involved in Till’s abduction and murder,” it said.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who introduced legislation to make lynching a federal crime in 2018, said Monday that lynching was “a shameful instrument of terror used to intimidate and oppress Black Americans”.

“This legislation is a necessary step America must take to heal from the racialised violence that has permeated its history,” his statement read.