Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 55, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act
Washington, December 8, 2021
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 55, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act:
"Following the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery, which has been cast as a 21st century example of modern lynching by civil rights advocates across the United States, the subsequent public outcry against racial injustice further galvanized national conversations around the historical efforts to create a lynching offense under federal law.
"H.R. 55, the 'Emmett Till Antilynching Act,' is long-overdue legislation that would explicitly designate lynching as a hate crime under federal law. The term 'lynching' has most often been used to characterize premeditated extrajudicial executions by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor or to strike fear among a targeted group.
"Throughout history, lynching has been employed as an extreme form of informal group social control and has often been conducted with the display of a public spectacle for maximum intimidation.
"H.R. 55 is named in honor of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American youth from Chicago who was lynched while visiting an uncle in Mississippi in 1955 in particularly gruesome fashion after being accused of whistling at a white woman.
"Though lynching touched all races and religions and occurred throughout the United States, it was most common in the South and was targeted primarily at Blacks. During the period between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. These violent incidents profoundly impacted race relations and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African American communities in ways that are still evident today.
"The antilynching movement set the stage for the creation of the civil rights movement that we recognize today. African Americans mobilized their own efforts to combat the threat of racial violence through grassroots activism and the founding of integrated social justice organizations.
"The work of the NAACP was especially pivotal in awakening the nation to the urgency of combatting lynching. In 1921, the NAACP began endorsing legislation to make lynching a federal crime. Antilynching activists, like journalist Ida B. Wells, harnessed the growing power of the African American press to demand national accountability for racial violence.
"The first federal antilynching legislation was introduced in 1900—almost 120 years ago—by Congressman George Henry White, the only African American Member of Congress at that time. Unfortunately, neither his bill, nor any other antilynching bills that were introduced in the decades that followed managed to pass Congress.
"The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was the closest that Congress ever came in the post-Reconstruction era to enacting antilynching legislation. The Department of Justice used that law to prosecute some civil rights-era crimes and hate crimes that were described as lynching in public discourse. But there is still no federal law explicitly prohibiting lynching.
"Today, we act to correct this historical injustice. H.R. 55 aims to complete the work of George Henry White, Ida B. Wells, and others, by finally addressing lynching conspiracies in federal law.
"In the 116th Congress, this Committee passed similar legislation without amendment by a voice vote and the bill passed the House nearly unanimously. Similar legislation passed the Senate unanimously in the 115th Congress and currently has bipartisan support in that chamber.
"I hope that we can finally get this historic legislation to the President’s desk this session. I thank the Gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Rush, for his leadership on this important issue and for his attention to history.
"It is especially appropriate that we consider legislation this week that bears the name of Emmett Till. Just days ago, the Department of Justice announced that it had closed a reexamination of the events leading up to his brutal murder, without additional charges. In his name, and in the name of all the victims of lynching throughout our history, I urge my colleagues once again to support this important legislation."