Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill

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Leonidas C. Dyer, Republican representative from Missouri, sponsor of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill.

The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill (1918) was first introduced in the 65th United States Congress by Representative Leonidas C. Dyer, a Republican from St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States House of Representatives as H.R. 11279[1] in order “to protect citizens of the United States against lynching in default of protection by the States.”[2] It was intended to establish lynching as a federal crime. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was re-introduced in subsequent sessions of United States Congress and passed, 230 to 119,[3] by the House of Representatives on January 26, 1922,[4] but its passage was halted in the United States Senate by a filibuster by Southern Democrats, who formed a powerful block. Southern Democrats justified their opposition to the bill by arguing that lynchings were a response to rapes and proclaiming that lynchings were an issue that should be left for states to deal with.[4]

Attempts to pass similar legislation took a halt until the Costigan-Wagner Bill of 1934.[5] Subsequent bills followed but the Congress never made lynching a federal crime due to powerful opposition from Southern senators;[6] it was not until 2018 that the Senate passed the anti-lynching legislation Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, on which the House of Representatives took no action.

On February 26, 2020, the House passed a revised version, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, by a vote of 410–4.[7] It was reintroduced in the 117th Congress with further revision. It was passed by the House on February 28, 2022, and by the Senate on March 7, 2022, marking the first time in the history of the United States Congress that an anti-lynching bill passed both houses.[8] President Joe Biden signed it into law on March 29, 2022.



1922 NAACP advertisement attempted to raise awareness about the lynching epidemic and the proposed Dyer anti-lynching bill.[9]

Lynchings were predominantly committed by whites against African Americans in the Southern and border states. According to statistics compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, between the years 1882 and 1951 some 4,730 people were lynched in the United States, of whom 3,437 were black and 1,293 were white.[10] The first wave of lynchings occurred in the years immediately following the Civil War, but fell off sharply with the dissolution of the first Ku Klux Klan about 1870. There was a revival in the 1890s; the largest annual number of lynchings occurred in 1892 (230 persons were lynched that year: 161 African-Americans and 69 whites).[11] and continued for the next two decades at relatively high levels, in what is often called the nadir of American race relations, a period marked by disfranchisement of African Americans and Jim Crow in the South, and discrimination against African Americans across the country.

Many lynchings were the result of Southern whites' extrajudicial efforts to maintain white supremacy, after gaining disfranchisement of most blacks through discriminatory voter registration and electoral rules, and imposing segregation and Jim Crow laws on the black population in the late 19th and early 20th century.[12] Maintaining white supremacy in economic affairs played a part as well.[13] Social changes resulting from a rapid rise in immigration from southern and eastern Europe, the rise of the Second Ku Klux Klan, and the internal Great Migration of blacks from the South to industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest contributed to violent confrontations. In 1917, white mobs had attacked blacks in East St. Louis (a city located directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri) over competition for work and punishment for strikebreakers.

In 1900 Representative George Henry White, a black Republican from North Carolina, introduced the first anti-lynching bill in Congress. It was subsequently defeated in a committee.[14] In April 1919, the NAACP published a report which disproved the myth that stated most lynchings were based on African-American attacks on white women: less than one sixth of the 2,500 African Americans lynched from 1889 to 1918 had even been accused of rape.[15] Representative Leonidas C. Dyer, who represented a majority African-American district, had taken notice of the hate crimes occurring around him and was outraged by the violence and disregard for law in such riots. Dyer was especially concerned about the continued high rate of lynchings in the South and the failure of local and state authorities to prosecute them. This inspired his anti-lynching bill.

A silent protest in support of the bill was organized by African Americans on June 14, 1922 in Washington, D.C.[16] Republican U.S. President Warren G. Harding announced his support for Dyer's bill during a speaking engagement in Birmingham, Alabama. Although the bill was quickly passed by a large majority in the House of Representatives, it was prevented from coming to a vote in 1922, 1923, and 1924 in the U.S. Senate, due to filibusters by the Southern Democratic bloc.[15] Southern Senators opposed anti-lynching laws and other civil rights legislation on the ground that blacks were responsible for more crime, more babies born out of wedlock, more welfare and other forms of social assistance, and that strong measures were needed to keep them under control.[17]


US House of Representatives Report No. 452 (1921)

The bill[18] classified lynching as a federal felony, which would have allowed the United States to prosecute cases, since states and local authorities seldom did. The bill prescribed punishments for perpetrators, specifically:

  • (a) A maximum of 5 years in prison, $5,000 fine, or both, for any state or city official who had the power to protect a person in his jurisdiction but failed to do so or who had the power to prosecute those responsible and failed to do so.
  • (b) A minimum of 5 years in prison for anyone who participated in a lynching, whether they were an ordinary citizen or the official responsible for keeping the victim safe.
  • (c) $10,000 fine to be paid by the county in which the lynching took place, to be turned over to the victim's family or his parents, or to the United States government if the victim has no family. If the victim was seized in one county and killed in another, both counties were to be fined.

In addition, the law prescribed actions of special circumstances:

  • (a) If officers fail to equally protect all citizens, they can be prosecuted in federal court.
  • (b) Foreign visitors were not exempt from this law and were to be prosecuted within the laws of the state or territory, as well as protected by those same laws.


From 1882 to 1968, "...nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal law."[19] No bills were approved by the Senate during this time period because of the powerful opposition of the conservative Southern Democratic voting bloc.[20]

However, the publicity the bill generated, together with the NAACP report and the National Conference on Lynching, moved local and state governments to take lynching more seriously. Lynchings decreased dramatically after 1919.[21]

On June 13, 2005, in a resolution sponsored by senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and George Allen of Virginia, together with 78 others, the US Senate formally apologized for its failure to enact this and other anti-lynching bills "when action was most needed."[20] On June 30, 2018, three senators (Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Tim Scott) introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act to make lynching a Federal hate crime.[22] The Senate voted unanimously in favor of it on December 19, 2018,[23][24] but the bill died because it was not passed by the House before the 115th Congress ended on January 3, 2019.[25]

On February 26, 2020, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, a revised version of the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, passed the House of Representatives, by a vote of 410–4.[7] Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has held the bill from passage by unanimous consent in the Senate, out of concern that a convicted criminal could face "a new 10-year penalty for ... minor bruising".[26] Paul requested expedited passage of an amended version of the bill, which would require "an attempt to do bodily harm" for an act to be considered lynching, saying that lynching is already illegal under federal Law.[27] House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer criticized Paul's position, saying on Twitter that "it is shameful that one GOP Senator is standing in the way of seeing this bill become law". Then-senator Kamala Harris added that "Senator Paul is now trying to weaken a bill that was already passed — there's no reason for this" while speaking to have the amendment defeated.[28][29]

A revised version of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, with the addition of a serious bodily injury standard, was introduced in the 117th Congress. It passed the House of Representatives on February 28, 2022, and the Senate on March 7, 2022.[30][31][32] It was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 29, 2022.[33]


  1. ^ Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Volume 65, Issue 2. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1918. p. 297.
  2. ^ "Anti-Lynching Legislation Renewed". US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. Archived from the original on March 10, 2022. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  3. ^ "House Passes Bill to Curb Lynching— Votes 230 to 119 Making It a Federal Crime and Providing Penalties", The New York Times, January 27, 1922, p. 27
  4. ^ a b Francis, Megan Ming (2014). Anti-Lynching Legislation and the Sinking of the Republican Ship in Congress. Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State. pp. 98–126. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139583749.004. ISBN 9781139583749. Archived from the original on 2021-03-07. Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  5. ^ "NAACP History: Anti-Lynching Bill". www.naacp.org. Archived from the original on 2015-05-16. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  6. ^ Masur, Louis P. (December 28, 2018). "Why it took a century to pass an anti-lynching law". The Guardian. Archived from the original on February 17, 2019. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Ella Torres (February 26, 2022). "Emmett Till bill making lynching a federal crime passes House". ABC News. Archived from the original on February 26, 2020. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  8. ^ Sonmez, Felicia (March 8, 2022). "Senate unanimously passes anti-lynching bill after century of failure". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 8, 2022. Retrieved March 8, 2022.
  9. ^ "New York Times". 1922-11-22. Archived from the original on 2015-05-03. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  10. ^ Guzman, Jessie P (1952). Negro Yearbook. New York. pp. 275–279.
  11. ^ Gibson, Robert A. "The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950". Yale. Archived from the original on 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  12. ^ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol.17, 2000 Archived 2018-11-21 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 10 March 2008
  13. ^ "Who Was Lynched?" Archived 2008-05-13 at the Wayback Machine, Nell Painter Website
  14. ^ Kaleem, Jaweed (December 5, 2018). "Congress has tried more than 200 times to pass an anti-lynching law. This year, it could fail again". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2019. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  15. ^ a b "Dyer Anti-lynching Bill". scalar.usc.edu. Archived from the original on 2015-05-22. Retrieved 2015-05-22.
  16. ^ Churchwell, Sarah (2018). Behold, America: The Entangled History of America First and the American Dream. New York: Basic Books. p. 122. ISBN 9781541673403. OCLC 1060691813.
  17. ^ Merle Miller, Lyndon: An Oral Biography at 73 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons 1980).
  18. ^ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (October 1919). Mobbing of John R. Shillady, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at Austin, Texas, Aug. 22, 1919. County Judge boasts of his leadership in the mobbing. Governor W.P. Hobby of Texas publicly approves the mob attack. New York.
  19. ^ Lynching in the United States#cite note-AP-7
  20. ^ a b Associated Press, "Senate Apologizes for Not Passing Anti-Lynching Laws" Archived 2020-11-18 at the Wayback Machine, Fox News
  21. ^ McWhirter, Cameron (2011). Red Summer. The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Henry Holt. p. 251. ISBN 9780805089066.
  22. ^ "Black senators introduce anti-lynching bill". 2018-06-30. Archived from the original on 2019-04-05. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  23. ^ Egwuonwu, Nnamdi. "Senate Unanimously Passes Anti-Lynching Bill". Newsy. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  24. ^ Lockhart, P. R. (2018-12-21). "Why the Senate's unanimous passage of an anti-lynching bill matters". Vox. Archived from the original on 2018-12-22. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  25. ^ "Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 (2018 - S. 3178)". GovTrack.us. Archived from the original on 2020-11-23. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  26. ^ "Sen. Paul acknowledges holding up anti-lynching bill, says he fears it would be wrongly applied". washingtonpost.com. 2020-06-03. Archived from the original on 2021-01-24. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  27. ^ "Senate Session". C-SPAN. Archived from the original on 2021-01-30. Retrieved 2021-07-10.
  28. ^ Barrett, Ted; Foran, Clare (June 3, 2020). "Rand Paul holds up anti-lynching legislation as he seeks changes to bill" Archived 2020-06-06 at the Wayback Machine. CNN. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  29. ^ Foran, Clare; Fox, Lauren (June 4, 2020). "Emotional debate erupts over anti-lynching legislation as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris speak out against Rand Paul amendment" Archived 2020-06-05 at the Wayback Machine. CNN. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  30. ^ Pengelly, Martin (March 8, 2022). "US Senate unanimously passes bill to make lynching a federal hate crime". The Guardian. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  31. ^ "US Congress passes bill to make lynching federal hate crime". Al Jazeera. March 8, 2022. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  32. ^ Cox, Chelsey (March 8, 2022). "A 'critical step toward justice': Senate passes the Emmett Till Antilynching Act". USA Today. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  33. ^ McDaniel, Eric; Moore, Elena (2022-03-29). "Lynching is now a federal hate crime after a century of blocked efforts". NPR. Retrieved 2022-03-29.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ginzburg, Ralph (1988). One Hundred Years of Lynchings (1962). Baltimore: Black Classic Press. ISBN 0933121180.
  • Timothy J. Greene, "Teaching the Limits of Liberalism in the Interwar Years: The NAACP's Antilynching Campaign," OAH Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 2 (Jan. 2004), pp. 28–30. In JSTOR
  • William B. Harvey, "Constitutional Law: Anti-Lynching Legislation," Michigan Law Review, vol. 47, no. 3 (Jan. 1949), pp. 369–377. In JSTOR
  • William B. Hixson, Jr., "Moorfield Storey and the Defense of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill," New England Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 1 (March 1969), pp. 65–81. In JSTOR
  • William F. Pinar, "The NAACP and the Struggle for Anti-Lynching Federal Legislation, 1917-1950," in Counterpoints, Vol. 163 (2001), pp. 683–752. In JSTOR
  • Mark Robert Schneider, "We Return Fighting": The Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2002.
  • Robert L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1980.