Both the U.S. House and Senate passed a reauthorization bill to extend and updates original legislation, that was signed into law in 2008, to respond to the concerns of victims’ family members and strengthen collaboration between the Justice Department, the FBI, State and local law enforcement to pursue Civil Rights-era cases that have gone cold… The U.S. Senate passed S. 2854/ H.R. 5067, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act, Dec. 13 and the U.S House passed the bill on Dec. 7. “We must never forget our nation’s dark past and should be mindful of our history and why so many in the African-American community raise the issue of whether Black lives matter. Many civil rights era crimes were barely noted or investigated, and I believe the perpetrators of those crimes should be brought to justice, even 50 years later,” U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich) said in a statement. “We passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act in 2007 to help bring these cases to light and seek justice for victims and their families. The Till Reauthorization Act will further empower the Department of Justice and cold case advocates to share information and review the status and closure of cases through 1980.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis first introduced the Emmet Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes bill in 2006. (Courtesy Photo)

In August 1955, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, a Black boy, whistled at a White woman in a grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Till, a teen from Chicago, didn’t understand he had broken the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South until three days later, when two White men dragged him from his bed in the middle of the night, beat him brutally, and then shot him in the head. Although his killers were arrested and charged with murder, they were both acquitted quickly by an all-White, all-male jury. Shortly afterwards, the defendants sold their story, including a detailed account of how they murdered Till, to a journalist. The murder and the trial horrified the nation and the world. “When this bill was signed into law, family members, academics, historians, lawyers, advocates began working to develop a full accounting for these longstanding, gross human and civil rights atrocities. The reauthorization that the House passed this evening is a response to their appeals to make the law a better tool in their quest for justice,” Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said from the House floor. The bill was first introduced in the 109th Congress.

U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division notes the difficulty with which the original hate crimes against Blacks could be investigated and prosecuted was due to the participation of law enforcement in the crimes, and a wall of noncooperation by Whites with outside investigators. In the case of voting registration workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, murdered June 21, 1964, in Philadelphia, Miss., 19 White men, including the sheriff and his deputy, were arrested on state conspiracy charges. Those charges were later dropped.

“As an original cosponsor of the Emmett Till Reauthorization Act, I’m pleased to see my colleagues came together and supported this important bill. This bipartisan legislation will provide for a sustained, well-coordinated effort to investigate and prosecute unsolved civil rights-era crimes,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said in a statement. “There are hundreds of cold cases from the civil rights era that have never been solved, and it is my hope that we are able to bring justice to the victims’ families.”

The reauthorization bill is now headed to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.