Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy from Chicago, Illinois, was horrifically murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Till grew up in a working-class neighborhood and he had attended a segregated elementary school, and was never prepared for the level of segregation he would encounter in Money, Mississippi. The story is that On August 24, while standing with his cousins and friends outside a store, Emmett bragged that his girlfriend back home was white. Emmett’s friends joked and dared Emmett to ask the white woman sitting behind the store counter for a date. He went in, bought some candy, and on the way out was heard saying, “bye, baby” to the woman. There were no witnesses in the store.
Carolyn Bryant, the woman behind the counter, later lied and said that he grabbed her, made naughty advances and wolf-whistled at her as he sauntered out. Roy Bryant, the store owner was also her husband. Once he heard about what happened, he went to the home of Till’s great uncle, Mose Wright along with his half brother J.W. Milam and demanded to see Till.
They ended up forcing Emmett into the car and drove off with him. Three days later, his body was recovered and was so badly mutilated that you couldn’t even tell what he looked like. The cops wanted to bury the body quickly but Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, refused. She wanted the world to see what they had done to her son. Mamie even had an open casket funeral where Jet, an African American weekly magazine, published the photos. Of course, they went to trial where witnesses pointed out who murdered Emmett. However, on September 23, the all-white jury delivered a “not guilty” verdict stating that the State failed to prove the identity of the body. Black folks were outraged and it showed us how brutal Jim Crow segregation was and ignited a fire under Black civil rights. The rest is history.
Lynching is a barbaric practice weaponized against African-Americans during the late 1800s, as well as the Civil Rights Movement and even happens today, just less obvious. While we no longer have whites openly hanging Black people from trees in crowds, joking, laughing and taking pictures. The term lynch law refers to a self-constituted court that imposes sentences on a person without due process of law and comes from the name Charles Lynch (1736–96), a Virginia planter and justice of the peace who headed an irregular court formed to punish loyalists during the American Revolution.
As if White supremacists couldn’t think of more ways to torture Black people, they found one. Lynchings in the United States grew in number after the American Civil War in the late 1800s, following the emancipation of slaves. Even though it declined a lot after 1930, there were still plenty of incidents recorded and plenty we don’t know about well into the 1960’s and after. After the war, southern whites wanted to keep their dominance so they created groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). They initiated extrajudicial assaults and killings in order to keep whites in power and discourage rights to Black people. ,A study of the period from 1868 to 1871 estimates that the KKK was involved in more than 400 lynchings. It is also reported that 4,730 lynchings in the United States were between 1882 and 1951, making 1,293 white and 3,437 were Black.
The anti-lynching bill was first introduced in 1918 by Leonidas Dyer and aimed to establish lynching as a federal crime. The bill was passed in December 1922, but was blocked from becoming law by Southern Democrats. 200 similar anti-lynching bills were continuously brought up to congress but no one would approve it due to the Southern Democrats. Just to be clear, the Southern Democrats were people of the south that defended slavery and believed in the Jacksonian democracy; they believed any white man would have the chance to secure his economic independence, would be free to live as he saw fit, under a system of laws and representative government utterly cleansed of privilege.
In 2017, Tim Tyson, author of the book The Blood of Emmett Till, revealed that Carolyn Bryant took back her testimony, admitting that Till had never touched, threatened or harassed her. In 2018, 7 decades later, the Senate would finally pass the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, a bill that classifies lynching as an act that “willfully cause bodily injury to any other person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person” as a federal hate crime. Although this is a big step forward, this can also easily be walked around with the right lawyers and judges in the courtroom. So, on February 27, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, a fully revised version of the 2018 bill. More information about lynchings have surfaced and been documented by the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that provides legal services to the wrongfully convicted and others struggling in the justice system.
“Enslaved people were promised freedom, and what they got was terrorism. During the era of lynching, Black people were promised security, but what they got was humiliation and segregation,” Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
America is starting to be forced to deal with it’s long history of racism. As newer generations are born and older generations die, people are learning and wanting to change what America stood for.
A lot of American people, especially Black America, is tired and fed up with racism and the injustice that continues to flood only their communities and livelihood. It starts not only with the people of America, but in our government laws. America was made and created on the backs of Black people and indigenous pain. There were laws that approved all of this to happen, so now we have to rewrite those laws and/or get rid of them all together. We can continue to look back in history and point fingers and say what the past was, but in truth, the problem is still very much here in the present and that is why it was so important for this bill to get passed. It is a giant leap in the right direction as leaders continue to tackle other laws that can protect Black Americans. There is a racial reckoning happening in America, from the constant protest to the demand to take down confederate monuments.
This past April, the Equal Justice Initiative opened the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, to show how the harms of slavery continue to manifest in modern times. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice even focuses on lynching with 800 suspended steel monuments engraved with the dates of various lynchings and the names of victims. The memorial is meant to force the nation to confront and understand its history. A history we will never forget but will continue to fight for a better future.