With President-Elect Trump’s inauguration only weeks away, President Obama is still hard at work signing valuable civil rights legislation, such as his latest, the “Emmett Till Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016.” Does the legislation sound familiar? It should, considering it’s merely an expansion of a civil rights bill passed by the House in 2007.
An updated version of a similarly named bill passed by the House in 2007, this new legislation aims to do away with limitations of cases of racially motivated deaths and disappearances that happened prior to 1970. It will grant further responsibilities to the FBI and the Department of Justice when investigating and prosecuting these cases that occurred during the worst of the Jim Crow era and will hold perpetrators and accomplices accountable under federal and state law. Additionally, President Obama’s legislation will grant funding to institutions and organizations to help solve civil rights cases, such as the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory University and Syracuse University’s Cold Case Justice Initiative.
In addition to amping up the investigations, federal agencies will be expected to meet other requirements, such as meeting with civil rights organizations and higher education institutions on a regular basis, and representatives of the DOJ will be expected to share information and discuss new breakthroughs in the investigations with the families of victims.
Just what brought the original Emmett Till Act into fruition, though? Why is President Obama choosing to focus on this particular piece of legislation? Well, it’s no secret that over the last couple of years, the racial divide in this country has widened. This piece of legislation aims to shine more light on civil rights issues and hopes to bring closure to families who have lost loved ones due to racially motivated crimes.
In fact, the original legislation and this new updated legislation is actually named after a 14-year-old African-American teenager who died tragically from such crimes. In 1955, Emmett Till was hunted down and lynched in rural Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. To make matters worse, the two men responsible for the child’s murder were let off by an all-White jury. The entire event, from the murder to the trial, sparked controversy all over the country and shed light on how racism remains prevalent in society and the justice system.
The original legislation was introduced in 2005 and was titled the “Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Bill.” Activist Alvin Sykes was the one behind the bill because he promised Emmett Till’s mother that he would work to reopen her son’s case. Emmett’s case was indeed reopened in 2004, then closed again three years later. However, with all of the attention the reopened case garnered, the FBI began looking into more than 100 civil rights cases, and in 2008 the original “Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Bill” was signed into law.
Sixty-one years have passed since Emmett Till’s tragic death, but with legislation like the “Emmett Till Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016,” that will reopen cold cases from the Civil Rights Era, other families may yet find justice.