Joe Biden signs Emmett Till law making lynching a US federal hate crime

Emmett Till Antilynching Act named after black teenager who was murdered in racist attack in 1955

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law the first federal legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime after the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent this month.

The legislation is named after 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in a racist attack in Mississippi in 1955 — an event that drew national attention to the atrocities and violence that African Americans faced in the US.

It has been 100 years since the idea of such legislation was first proposed.

Mr Biden acknowledged the long delay during his remarks in the Rose Garden to lawmakers, administration officials and civil rights advocates, stressing how the violent deaths of black Americans were used to intimidate them and prevent them from voting simply because of their skin colour.

“Thank you for never giving up, never ever giving up,” the president said. “Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal.”

The bill makes it possible to prosecute a crime as a lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury. A conviction would carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

“After 100-plus years and 200-plus failed attempts to outlaw lynching, the Senate took long-overdue action by passing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer when the upper chamber passed the bill.

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

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 422-3. Republicans Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas voted against the legislation.

The president stressed that forms of racial terror continue to exist in the US — creating the need for the law.

“Racial hate isn’t an old problem — it’s a persistent problem,” Mr Biden said. “Hate never goes away. It only hides.”

Till was murdered after Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, claimed he had propositioned her at the family-owned grocery store where she worked.

His mutilated body was found in a river three days later. Till's mother insisted his remains be displayed in an open casket so the world could see the atrocities that were committed.

Carolyn's husband, Roy Bryant, and J W Milam, Roy Bryant's half-brother, were arrested for Till's murder but were acquitted by an all-white jury. They later admitted to a magazine that they had killed him.

Roy Bryant died in 1994 and Milam died in 1981.

The Department of Justice reopened the investigation into Till's murder in 2018. Carolyn Bryant, now known as Carolyn Donham, recanted evidence she had given, but the Justice Department said she “denied to the FBI that she ever recanted her testimony".

The department ended its investigation in December.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: March 30, 2022, 3:43 AM