Pelosi Floor Speech in Support of H.R. 35, Emmett Till Antilynching Act

February 26, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 35, the Emmitt Till Antilynching Act, a bill to designate lynching as a federal hate crime.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I thank the gentleman for yielding – thank him and the Ranking Member for bringing this legislation to the Floor.  

It's so appropriate that it is bipartisan because it is about American values.  And I rise to join you to pass H.R. 35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which finally explicitly designates lynching as a federal hate crime.

More than a century ago, the first anti-lynching legislation was introduced and later passed by this House to, ‘To assure to persons within the jurisdiction of every state the equal protection of the laws and to punish the crime of lynching.’  But, over 100 years and 200 attempts later – passage is still not law.

I salute Congressman Bobby Scott – excuse me, Bobby Rush.  I know Bobby Scott has something to do with this as well, but in this case the leadership of Bobby Rush, a lifelong civil rights champion in the Congress and in our country, for his leadership on H.R. 35, which will right this historic wrong.

Thank you to Chairwoman Karen Bass of the Congressional Black Caucus for her commitment and that of the entire Congressional Black Caucus for bringing this legislation to the Floor.

And thank you, Chairman Nadler and Mr. Ranking Member, for your leadership as well.  And I thank Senators Booker and Harris, leading this legislation in the Senate.

Today, Congress has an opportunity to acknowledge its responsibility for its historic failure to confront and end the horror of lynching, lynching in America.  We must begin by acknowledging the heartbreaking truth that racially motivated acts of terror have long been a part of American history and that they remain a stain on our nation's soul today.  

We must never forget the massacre in Wilmington, North Carolina, 122 years ago, in which 60 black Americans were brutally murdered.  The race massacre in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, 100 years ago next year, called ‘the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.’  The mutilation and murder of Emmett Till, for whom this legislation is named, a 14-year-old boy – just a boy – 65 years ago, one of the most appalling acts of racial violence in our history, forever seared in our collective memory.

And we must remember the victims of more than 4,000 other lynchings and countless other acts of racial terror perpetuated through our nation's history.  Let that remind us that racially motivated violence and other forms of violence and hate targeting vulnerable communities are not a relic of the past.

When a white supremacist guns down nine parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, at Mother Emanuel, at one of America’s oldest African American congregations; when neo-Nazis and white nationalist mobs carry tiki torches in broad daylight, taking an innocent life; when a domestic terrorist murders 22 innocent souls in El Paso after penning a racist anti-Latino screed on the internet; when an anti-Semitic murderer kills eleven innocent men and women engaged in peaceful prayer at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we cannot deny that racism, bigotry and hate still exist in America.

As Members of Congress and as Americans, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the horrors of the past so that we can never have them occur again.  As Ida B. Wells, the crusading journalist, anti-lynching advocate and founding member of the NAACP, said, ‘The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.’  

This legislation will not erase the stain of lynching and racist violence, but it will help shine the light of truth on the injustices of the past so that we can heal our nation and build a better, safer future for all of our children.

In just over a week, many Members will travel to Selma, Alabama, to observe 55 years since the march for freedom.  With passage of this bill, we can make that pilgrimage, praying at the Brown Chapel AME Church and marching over the Edmund Pettus with dignity, respect and honor.

I urge a unanimous vote for H.R. 35.

Again, I thank the Chairman and the Ranking Member for their leadership, and yield back the balance of my time.