Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following remarks, as prepared, on the House floor in support of H.R. 35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act:
"Madam Speaker, H.R. 35, the 'Emmett Till Antilynching Act,' is long-overdue legislation that would criminalize lynching for the first time under federal law.
"The term 'lynching' generally refers to premeditated public acts of violence—often resulting in death—carried out by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to strike fear among a targeted group.
"H.R. 35 is named in honor of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American youth from Chicago who was lynched in particularly gruesome fashion while visiting an uncle in Mississippi in 1955. His murder, and the antilynching movement that followed, set the stage for the creation of the civil rights movement that we recognize today.
"Because generally they could not rely on law enforcement to protect them, African Americans mobilized their own efforts to combat the terror of lynching and the threat of racial violence through grassroots activism and the founding of integrated social justice organizations.
"During the period between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States, primarily in the South, as a means of racial subordination and enforcing white supremacy. These violent incidents were largely tolerated by state and federal officials and profoundly impacted race relations and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African American communities in ways that are still evident today.
"Although the civil rights conspiracy statute does not specify the offense of lynching as a federal crime, this section has been used by the Department of Justice to prosecute civil rights-era crimes and hate crimes that were described as lynching in public discourse.
"However, it remains important to enact federal antilynching legislation to acknowledge this shameful chapter in American history and to send a clear message that such violent actions—motivated by hatred and bigotry—will not be tolerated in this country.
"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.
"Today, we act to correct this historical injustice that should rest heavily on the conscience of this Congress. I thank the Gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Rush, for his leadership on this important issue and for his attention to history. I also want to thank the Gentleman from Nebraska, Mr. Bacon, for his support of this legislation, and the many cosponsors of this bill who helped pave the way for its passage today. I urge my colleagues to support the bill, and I reserve the balance of my time."