Congress has passed legislation to posthumously award Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021, which is now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature, passed in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. It passed unanimously in the Senate nearly a year ago, on Jan. 10.
The Congressional Gold Medal is an award given by Congress to highlight and show national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Congress has given the medal to fewer than 180 notable historical figures, pioneers and leaders in U.S. history. Recipients have included Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa and the Wright brothers.
Till was a Black 14-year-old who was kidnapped and lynched in 1955 by two white men in Mississippi after he was accused of whistling at a white woman. His mother, who died in 2003, insisted that he have an open casket, so as to make clear the brutality of her son’s death and the racism and injustice that led to it. Till’s death is today considered a catalyst of the American civil rights movement.
The congressional award will be on display near Till’s casket at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., according to NPR.
“[Till’s] brutal murder still serves as a reminder of the horror and violence experienced by Black Americans throughout our nation’s history,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said in a press release. “The courage and activism demonstrated by Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in displaying to the world the cruelty endured by her son helped awaken the nation’s conscience, forcing America to reckon with our failure to address racism and the glaring injustices that stem from such hatred.”
An extensive report on lynching conducted by the Equal Justice Initiative concluded there were nearly 6,500 documented racial terror lynchings in the U.S. between 1865, the year the Civil War ended, and 1950. Many historians believe the actual number of lynchings has been underreported, since the killings were not formally tracked. Mississippi, which had the highest recorded number of lynchings between 1882 and 1968, dedicated a statue to Till in October.
In March, Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, effectively making lynching a federal hate crime offense. According to The Associated Press, this is the first anti-lynching law in U.S. history, following almost 200 failed attempts to pass such legislation.
“The horrendous lynching of Emmett Till and the legacy of his mother Mamie Till-Mobley, should never be forgotten. This legislation allows us to remember the Till family and the over 4,700 victims of lynching who experienced racial terror in this country,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said in a press release. “This is a meaningful step in the right direction of addressing our past, acknowledging mistakes, and using those lessons to better ourselves and our country.”