President Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill into law on March 30, 2022, making lynching a federal hate crime. As I write these words it is hard to believe it would take one hundred years since anti-lynching legislation was first proposed to become the law of the land. The collaboration of Brian Stevenson and the Mass Design Group’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, shows in stark terms the scope of these heinous crimes. The Tuskegee University Archives reports that there were almost 5,000 lynchings between 1882 and 1968 and more than 70 percent of those deaths were Black Americans. Both have brought to the public light the depth, breadth, and horror of lynchings for all to see and understand.
Emmett Till he was tortured to death in August 1955. While almost seventy years have passed, the pain of that murder and the lingering era stays with us. In the early 2000s I was in the Mississippi Delta on a book tour and came into contact with two individuals who had a direct connection to the trial of the three men accused of the murder. My first interaction was a relative of one of the prosecutors in the case and the second was a relative of one of the jurors. It was eerie then and now. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act of 2022 reminds us that Emmett Till’s death was not just a random act of violence but an intentional stain on our humanity. Lest we not forget the fourteen-year old for whom the act is named, I encourage you to read The Lynching of Emmett Till—A Documentary Narrative, edited by Christopher Metress, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2002. As his mother, Mrs. Mami Bradley, cried out at his funeral, “Lord you gave your only son to remedy a condition, but who knows, but what the death of my only son might bring an end to lynching.” Yesterday was an important step toward the culmination of that long journey.
--Suzanne Morse Moomaw, Director of University of Virginia Press