On February 28th of this year, Congress passed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill. President Biden signed it into law a month later. This designated lynching as a federal hate crime. A good thing.
Emmett Till had traveled from Chicago to visit his uncle in Mississippi in August of 1955 when he was a 14 year old Black boy. He was abducted, tortured, mutilated, and shot in the head by two grown White men. His body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Images of his unrecognizable body were exposed. It was expected that this would raise a hue & cry concerning the horrifying practice of lynching, a regular occurrence for too many decades to count. However, a month later the two White men were acquitted. Any outrage quickly died away, even when less than a year later the two men admitted they were guilty.
So what do we make of the fact that it has taken 67 years to respond to this brutal murder? Yes, SIXTY SEVEN years, minus a few months. And 67 years to recognize that killing a child for the color of his skin is not only a crime, but is evidence of malevolent hatred on the part of the murderers? Furthermore, during these 67 years, dozens, scores, hundreds of innocent children and adults have been killed for the same unforgiveable reason. I’m White, a member of the Killer Class. Not for the first time, I feel enraged, ashamed, and hopeless.
As a further indignity, this bill was passed on the last day of Black History Month. In light of the barbarism of this, couldn’t it at least have been passed on the first day of Black History Month? (Let’s leave for another day the question of why Black History, American History from 1619, is relegated to a month.)
We White people had the pins knocked out from under us on 9/11. For the first time in this country we had to live with the fear of terrorism. Black people have had to live with terrorism from the day they were brought here on slave ships. With racial acts of terror that have been meant to intimidate whole communities.
Today I’m left with wondering: can White people be saved?