By Stacy M. Brown
With Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells, by her side, Vice President Kamala Harris went out of her way Tuesday to praise the Black Press during the bill-signing ceremony for the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.
As the vice president and President Joe Biden delivered about 30 minutes’ worth of remarks, Harris reflected.
“Ida B. Wells,” she began midway through her speech. “The courageous nature of that incredible American who used her skill, her profession, her calling, as a journalist to help open the eyes of our nation to the terror of lynching which speaks to the role — going off-script — and the importance of the Black Press and making sure that we have storytellers in our community, who will tell the story when no one else is willing to tell it.”
Named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy savagely murdered by a group of white men in Mississippi in 1955, the legislation received pushback from three Republicans — Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Chip Roy of Texas — who cast the lone votes against the bill.
Till’s murder sparked the civil rights movement, leading to bills such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other social justice laws.
And while the story of Emmett Till is widely known, Harris noted other incidents of lynching throughout American history.
“So those heroes who petitioned presidents to pass anti-lynching legislation, after the murder of Mary Turner in 1918, Emmett Till in 1955, James Byrd Jr. in 1998, and James Craig in 2011, and it failed again and again and again,” Harris said. “Anti-lynching legislation was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress by leaders who understood that our past must not and cannot be forgotten. That the truth must be spoken no matter how difficult it is to speak, and certainly no matter how difficult it is to hear.”
She praised Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) for their roles in seeing the bill through to passage.
Harris also lauded Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott for supporting the effort.
“The people of our nation deserve the protection of this anti-lynching law,” she said. “I believe so often, and it has been said, the victims of lynching were targeted because they were working to build a better America. That’s what they were doing, and it was in everyone’s best interest. But unfortunately, the cowards couldn’t see and couldn’t understand.
“So, today, we recognize them, our history, and let us recommit ourselves to that unfinished business as well to continue to fight for freedom, opportunity, and justice for all,” Harris said.