March 30 (UPI) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a bill into law making lynching a federal hate crime for the first time in U.S. history.
He praised the members of Congress and activists throughout history who’ve attempted to get a federal anti-lynching law on the books since a bill was first introduced in 1900.
“Racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem,” Biden said.
“Hate never goes away, it only hides. It hides under the rocks. Give it just a little bit of oxygen, it comes roaring back out, screaming. What stops it is all of us, not just a few.”
He quoted Ida B. Wells, a prominent Black journalist born into slavery who worked to expose the horrors of lynching and met with President William McKinley to urge him to promote an anti-lynching law in 1898.
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them,” she wrote in her book “The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader.”
Wells’ great-granddaughter, author Michelle Duster, attended the signing ceremony and spoke about the activist’s efforts against lynching. She said her great-grandmother was exiled from the South and her printing press destroyed because of her attempts to bring more attention to lynching.
Duster noted there have been more than 200 attempts to get anti-lynching legislation passed in the U.S. Congress since Wells first met with McKinley.
“We finally stand here today, generations later, to witness this historic moment of President Biden signing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act bill into law,” she said. “We are here today because of the tenacity of the civil rights leaders and commitment of leaders of Congress who are here today.”
The legislation was passed by both houses of Congress this year — first by the House in February and the Senate early this month. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but three Republicans opposed it in the House — Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas.
The bill is named after Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy who was kidnapped and killed by lynching in 1955 for whistling at a White woman while on vacation in Mississippi.
Till’s mother held an open-casket funeral to show the brutality of the crime. The funeral is generally agreed to have helped begin the American civil rights movement that spanned for decades.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who also spoke at the signing ceremony, praised the efforts of her former colleagues in Congress to push the legislation through. She called lynching “a stain on the history of our nation.”
“I believe that so often … the victims of lynching were targeted … because they were working to build a better America,” she said.
Harris said many lynching victims were business owners, teachers and activists trying to improve life for Black Americans.
“Let us also be here gathered to recommit ourselves to that unfinished business as well,” she said. “To continuing to fight for freedom, opportunity and justice for all.”
Federal authorities reopened the investigation into Till’s death in 2017 after a new book said the woman at the center of the case, Carolyn Bryant Donham, had recanted parts of her accusations. The Justice Department closed the investigation last December saying there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue new charges in Till’s death.