by Janice Athill -
SGN Contributing Writer
"With sound body and mind, I'm here to tell you right now, if my body is found hanging from a tree, I did not commit suicide, I was murdered."
In 2020 Americans took to Twitter, proclaiming these words in response not only to the "strange fruit" suddenly ripening but also to the "suicide" rulings by local law enforcement in the cases of four Black individuals found hanging from trees in California, New York and Texas.
The last reported lynching in the United States is said to have been in 1981 by the Ku Klux Klan, but maybe that information needs to be revised. Lynching has been widely recognized as a vulgar discriminatory act against the Black community for too long to begin pretending we do not know what it looks like.
Lynching began in 1882, taking over for slavery as the dominant assertion of racism in our country. By 1968 it had claimed the lives of more than 4,700 people. At least 70% of these were Black, and 99% of the time, those who committed the crimes went unpunished.
The singer Billie Holiday launched her career largely on the success of her song "Strange Fruit," a vivid depiction of a lynching, which at the same time painted a target on her back. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics issued a warning to Holiday saying she was never to sing "Strange Fruit" again - but what does one have to do with the other? The FBN's commissioner had simply resolved to ruin Billie's life over her stand against lynching.
The American government would like to have its citizens believe it is making its best efforts to combat racism, yet it has failed to act against one of the most heinous forms of hate crimes committed. Congress saw about 200 anti-lynching bills during the 20th century, and even though seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching, attempts to ensure justice have continued to be met with resistance.
In 1918 and again in 1937, some of the first bills to ban the lynching of African Americans were considered by the Senate, but they did not pass. A hundred years and many bills later, in 2018 the Senate passed anti-lynching legislation, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act - but the House of Representatives took no action. The House then passed a revised version, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, on February 26, 2020. Meant to amend Title 18 of the United States Code to specify lynching as a deprivation of civil rights, the bill met heavy resistance in the Senate from Rand Paul (R-Ky.). He wants to change the heavy sentences for attempted lynching or harm that does not lead to serious injury or death.
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act has still not been passed by the Senate.
As of March 2021, no anti-lynching bill has been passed by both houses of Congress.