Congressman Who Introduced Emmett Till Antilynching Act Comments On The Arbery Case NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who introduced the Emmett Till Antilynching Act in the House in February, about the Act and the Arbery case.

Congressman Who Introduced Emmett Till Antilynching Act Comments On The Arbery Case

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Emmett Till forever changed the history of the United States when his story, the story of a 14-year-old African American boy lynched in Mississippi, made national news in 1955. After his death, Till became an icon forcing forward the civil rights movement. But lynching is still not a federal crime in the United States in 2020, something Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois wants to change. He introduced the Emmett Till Antilynching Act in the House where it passed back in February, the same month, we now know, that Ahmaud Arbery was killed. He's the unarmed black man who was shot while jogging in Georgia. Well, we have invited Congressman Rush to reflect on this, and he joins me now from the Capitol. Congressman, welcome.

BOBBY RUSH: Thank you, Mary Louise. I am certainly glad to be on your show with you this afternoon.

KELLY: We are glad to have you with us. I want to start with Ahmaud Arbery. As you know, the investigation into his death is ongoing. Based on what we do know, do you believe his killing would qualify as a lynching under your bill as your bill lays it out?

RUSH: I'm absolutely certain that Mr. Arbery's killing would fall within the total jurisdiction and the description and the purpose. And the smearing of the bill then passed the House, and it's languishing there in the Senate. So I'm absolutely certain that it would fit within in the bill.

KELLY: I went back and read the statement that you put out on the day that the House voted to pass your bill, voted overwhelmingly by the way. It was 410-4. And that statement that you put out on February 26 reads, and I'll quote it, "with the passage of this bill, we correct a historical injustice based on a lie that took the life of this young man." I've read it twice and you were, of course, talking about Emmett Till. But I wonder if you have thought back on those words given that we now know about this other young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed that same week in February that you all were voting.

RUSH: Yeah, absolutely. And when Emmett was killed, Emmett's death meant so much to me and to a whole generation of people. My generation, as a matter of fact, was really significantly shaped by the brutal murder of Emmett Till. And the courage of his mother to keep his casket open...

KELLY: The courage of his mother - yeah.

RUSH: That really created the emphasis for the civil rights movement that changed the nation. The major lie that was told back then really has a strong connection, a unbroken connection, to the lie that the father and the son told me in Ahmaud Arbery case.

KELLY: You're talking about the two men who have been charged in the Ahmaud Arbery case.

RUSH: Absolutely. And this is an uninterrupted lie that extends from the lips of Emmett's murderers back then to Arbery's murderers even to this present day - this spirit of trying to get away with murder, to express racist motivation and intent to kill an innocent person just because of the color of their skin.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, I hear the anger in your voice that a bill like this would be necessary in 2020, not just to address past wrongs of decades ago, but that it would still feel so frustratingly relevant today in 2020.

RUSH: I'm 73 years old now. And I must have been 9 or 10 when Emmett was killed. All right. But the question that I have in my heart and my spirit is, when is this going to end? When will it be a violation of the federal law?

KELLY: If your bill becomes law, how might this legislation affect the handling of the Ahmaud Arbery case?

RUSH: It would give them not just a violation of a hate crime statute to charge name offenders with the murder as well but able to be identified as a lyncher and a murderer. That says something about your character. You will never ever be able to live that down. That's a mark on you and your family. I mean, being a murderer is one thing. I mean, that's abhorrent in any civil society. But to be someone who is a lyncher, being a part of a lynching mob, oh, my lord, how low can you go? You can't get any lower than that.

KELLY: Congressman Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois and sponsor of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which would make lynching a federal crime.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.