A Century Late … 4,743 Lives

The first federal anti-lynching bill was introduced by Representative George Henry White of North Carolina in 1900.  It never made it to the House floor for a vote. In the years since, more than 200 similar bills have been filed, none of which have passed through both chambers of Congress. Until yesterday.

Lynching was a favorite tool of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups in the years after the Civil War, terrorizing black communities out of political activism and into silence for fear of their lives.  For decades, white southerners used lynching, Jim Crow laws, and voter suppression to maintain white supremacy. After World War I, increased European immigration, fears of communism, and the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to major industrial cities in the North and Midwest led to increased instances of lynching.

Between 1882 and 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and seven U.S. presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal anti-lynching law.  Probably the most famous anti-lynching proposal was the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Missouri Republican Leonidas C. Dyer on April 8, 1918. Several bills were introduced in the 1920s, then again in the 1930s and 1940s, passed several times by the House of Representatives, but never actually coming to a vote in the United States Senate.

For decades, white people treated lynchings as an entertainment venue, bringing picnic lunches and their children with them to watch a Black man (or woman) dangle at the end of a rope.  Professional photographers were hired to take pictures from which postcards were created, sent to family and friends.

Postcard of the 1920 Duluth, Minnesota lynchings. Two of the Black victims are still hanging while the third is on the ground. Postcards of lynchings were popular souvenirs in the U.S.

The last known lynching in the U.S. was on March 21, 1981 when several Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members beat and killed Michael Donald, a 19-year-old African-American, and hung his body from a tree. Some will say that since there have been no lynchings (that we know of) for the past four decades, the bill was unnecessary.  Even so, the bill that passed yesterday and that is due to be signed by President Biden will create a law that is way past due.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said …

“Hallelujah — it is long overdue. That it took so long is a stain, a bitter stain on America.”

The bill, aptly named after Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black boy who was brutally tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955, passed in the House of Representatives last month and in the Senate yesterday.  In the House, only three representatives, all predictably Republicans from southern states, voted against the bill – Representatives Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas.

A mural in Chicago of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was lynched in 1955. Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois, said that as a boy, seeing a photo of Emmett’s battered body “shaped my consciousness as a Black man in America.”Credit…Scott Olson/Getty Images

This bill has been bouncing around in Congress since it was first introduced in 2018 by Senators Cory Booker, Tim Scott, and then-Senator Kamala Harris.  In 2020, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul objected, starting a fight in the Senate and effectively killing the bill for the time being.  This time, however, he supported the bill, saying …

“I’m pleased to have worked with Senators Booker and Scott to strengthen the final product and ensure the language of this bill defines lynching as the absolutely heinous crime that it is.”

I shall bite my tongue regarding Mr. Paul’s hypocrisy.  The long-overdue bill makes lynching a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.  A day late and a dollar short, as they say, but still … better late than never.  It won’t bring back the lives of Emmett Till and the other 4,742 people who have been lynched by white supremacists for no reason other than the colour of their skin, but it may prevent a resurgence of lynching in this day when racism is on the rise.

52 thoughts on “A Century Late … 4,743 Lives

  1. I nearly couldn’t face reading this, even worse than all we’ve heard before. Why would anyone do this; it’s easy to keep people downtrodden and excluded without resorting to obscene cruelty and taking pride? How many people must still be alive who took part, how many recognise a father or grandfather in those photos?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I understand … I struggled with the writing of it, especially adding pictures that brought a lump to my throat. I wondered the same … how many descendants of the people in that picture are still alive today, and do they believe as their ancestors did? This is one of America’s darkest deeds, the shame of this nation.


  2. Clive pegs it, that a civilized nation who believes in freedom, justice, and equality, doesn’t need such a law. I won’t go into the obvious about what that stain says about us.

    I’m more concerned that it took so long to do something. What does it say about the threats faced now, such as climate change? Will actions be taken to address climate change forty years after it’s too late to change?

    Probably, if you go by abortion and choice, or vaccines and mandates, or wealth imbalance and taxes, or child poverty, or gun deaths. That’s our American government, leading from behind, barely catching up. Of course, it’s really the people they lead that drag us down, isn’t it? Yeah, but real leaders — well, yeah. You know.

    Hugs and cheers, M

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yep, Clive is spot on … sadly. And you are right, too … where people might be inconvenienced or have their beliefs challenged, doing what is right takes far more time than it should. As re climate change, we really don’t have another century to debate the issue … we need to act YESTERDAY! But then, according to the know-it-alls, climate change is a natural thing and just a hoax, so why worry, right? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I wonder what they will say when crops fail, when water supplies dry up, and when the air is barely breathable? But now, if you want to talk to them about guns after Monday’s school shooting … another matter altogether! Sigh. Hugs ‘n cheers to you, my friend!


  3. a Hundred and summat years too late but then the REPUBLICANS were never going to pass a bill like this during their supremacy were they. All THOSE PEOPLE WHO DIED DESERVED THE PROTECTION OF THE LAW, i wonder how many of them were in the attending crowds.

    Liked by 3 people

    • No, were it left entirely to the Republicans, no anti-lynching bill would have ever seen the light of day. But then, were it left up to the Republicans of today, Black people would return as slaves to the cotton plantations, women would no longer be CEOs, but would be returned to the kitchen, and … well, you get the idea. I wondered the same, looking at the pictures and reading about the crowds, sometimes thousands, who attended the lynchings … how many of their children and grandchildren walk among us? Have they learned, or do they share the views of their ancestors? Hard to say. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad you covered this topic, most emphatically addressing a stain on America. Its importance now is the backdrop of state’s’ manufacturing the need to protect children from being taught critical race theory (CRT), which has morphed into any discussion of historical events that could make white kids “uncomfortable.”
    Emmett Till’s remaining family are seeking justice from the one surviving person involved in his murder: the woman who admitted she lied that he’d made a pass at her, prompting his killers to seek revenge.
    It’s time for that reckoning too.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I fully agree! That woman obviously has NO conscience, for she knew what her husband and his brother would do, and still she lied. As I looked at the crowd of people viewing a lynching I thought … some of those people’s kids and grandkids are still alive today … I wonder if they have the same views their ancestors did, or if they have learned to be humans. Racism in this country is every bit as bad as apartheid was in South Africa … and still today many haven’t learned to treat people with kindness regardless of skin colour, gender, religion, etc. I guess we never will learn. Sigh.


  5. Pingback: A CENTURY LATE … 4,743 LIVES. |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

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