Congress passes bill named for Emmett Till that makes lynching a federal hate crime

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Nearly 65 years after the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in the Mississippi Delta, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed legislation named after Till that would classify lynching as a federal hate crime.

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, sponsored by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, passed on a 410-4 vote in the House on Wednesday. All four of Mississippi’s congressmen voted to pass the measure.

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents the places Till was abducted and murdered, called the anti-lynching bill long overdue but said: “No matter the length of time, it is never too late to ensure justice is served.”

Those voting against the bill were Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and GOP Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ted Yoho of Florida.

Last year, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bill. Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was the presiding officer in the upper chamber when the bill passed. The House and Senate bills have minor differences that will need to be reconciled before the measure heads to President Donald Trump’s desk for consideration.

Till, who was 14 at the time of his death, was murdered in 1955 while visiting Mississippi from Chicago. During the visit, Till and his cousins visited a store in Money owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, who said that Till grabbed her arm, put his hands on her waist and made sexually suggestive comments.

Roy Bryant and his brother, J.W. Milam, later kidnapped Till from his relatives’ home. Days later, Till’s body was found; he had been badly beaten and shot, a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire before he was thrown into the Tallahatchie River.

An open-casket photo of Till published in Jet magazine helped galvanize the modern civil rights era. Roy Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the murders, but later confessed in a magazine interview.

Congress had failed to pass anti-lynching legislation nearly 200 times, dating back to a bill introduced in 1900 by Rep. George Henry White of North Carolina, the only black member of Congress at the time.

(Correction: Story updated to reflect that the measure won’t be sent to the White House until language differences in the Senate and House bills are reconciled.)