Last Wednesday for the first time in its nearly 250-year history, the U.S. Senate has passed legislation, that if enacted, will make lynching a federal crime.
According to the NAACP, between 1882 and 1968, More than 4,700 people were lynched in the America—more than 70 percent of the victims were Black. Now, for the first time in American history, the legislation will criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch, and conspiracy to lynch.
For more than a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is—a bias-motivated act of terror. According to the legislation, since 1882, Congress had tried and failed at least 200 times to pass similar anti-lynching measures.
For example, In November 1922, according to the Institute of American History, the NAACP ran full page ads in newspapers pressing for the passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. Entitled “The Shame of America,” the ad laid out the shocking statistics of lynching from 1899 through 1922. “The bill was passed by a two-to-one majority in the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate. A few years later, the NAACP issued the statistics as a pamphlet entitled “For the Good of America.”
The document encouraged Americans to “aid the organization which has been fighting for ten years to wipe out our shame.” Despite the NAACP’s relentless efforts through the 1930s and the introduction of several subsequent bills, the US Congress never acted to outlaw lynching.
This year’s legislation, titled the “Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018,” was introduced in June by the Senate’s three Black members: California Democrat, Kamala Harris, New Jersey Democrat, Cory Booker and Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican.
“Lynchings were needless and horrendous acts of violence that were motivated by racism and we must acknowledge that fact, lest we repeat it,” Harris stated.
When the measure passed last week, Booker referred to the effort as an emotional and historic experience. “Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history,” he stated.
Throughout the long and terror filled history of lynching, perpetrators were rarely prosecuted according to the NAACP. When enacted the bill will add a section to federal civil rights law titled—lynching—and stress that when two or more people are convicted of this crime they can be sentenced up to life in prison.
Although the crime of lynching is already covered under federal and/or state statutes to have it explicitly spelled out under federal law sends a powerful message that such acts to perpetuate hatred and incite fear will not be tolerated.