Issue 84 • Week of August 27, 2023
Recent headlines around the world celebrated the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most famous speech, I Have a Dream. Less mentioned, but just as pertinent to US history, was the horrific lynching of 14-year-old African American Emmett Till that also occurred the same day eight years before that landmark address.
Till's grisly death at the hands of two white men in Mississippi who were later found not guilty by an all-white-male jury sparked outrage across the country that catalyzed the Civil Rights Movement. The slain teenager was survived by his mother who turned her tragedy into a rallying cry for progress. They have since been memorialized in a recent award-winning film and with a National Monument.
Lynchings were finally made a federal crime only last year after 200 attempts in Congress, even though hate crimes have been on the rise since 9/11. Reported incidents increased over 20% in 2022 compared with 2021 and hit a record high last year that grew across nearly every group. Blacks remain the most targeted for hate crimes, while Asian Americans and the LGBTQ+ community have endured recent surges in xenophobia since the pandemic and alarming rhetoric across various forms of media.
Even before that, one third of Americans surveyed already felt at risk for a hate crime in 2014 – the most recent international data available. That placed the United States an abysmal 87th out of 132 countries for perceived safety from a physical attack due to one's skin color, ethnic origin, gender, or religion.