Family of Mississippi lynching victim reacts to Emmett Till legislation

Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 10:49 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - President Joe Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act.

There were some Mid-Southerners at the White House for the official signing of the legislation.

Shelby County Commissioner Eddie Jones, National President of Black County Elected officials and Dr. Lasimba Gray, chair of the Ida B. Wells Memorial Committee were both in attendance.

The granddaughters of a Mississippi sharecropper say they are still coming to grips with their family’s own connection with lynchings in this country.

“They didn’t talk about it before my grandmother passed. She never talked about it, they were still too frightened to talk about what happened,” said Delois Wright, who is the granddaughter of Elwood Higginbotham. Higginbotham was lynched by an angry white mob in Oxford, Mississippi in the 1930′s.

Tina Washington and Wright say their father, just a small child at the time, fled with the rest of the family to Memphis after the incident.

“He hated Mississippi, but I think God has a way of giving someone that closure about the situation and I feel like daddy got closure about it before he died,” said Washington.

Saturday there will be dedication ceremony for a historical marker on the lawn of the Lafayette County Courthouse to remember Higgenbotham and 6 other known Oxford lynching victims.

Tuesday President Biden signed into law a bill to prevent something like that from happening again. The Emmett Till Anti-lynching law makes lynching a federal hate crime. It’s a fight that activist and former Memphis resident Ida B. Wells advocated for more than a century ago.

“Since my great-grandmother’s visit to the White House 124 years ago, there have been over 200 attempts to get legislation enacted,” said Michelle Duster, great granddaughter of Wells. The bill was named after a 14-year-old Black boy who was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.

Till’s family was in the Rose Garden as the president signed the legislation. For Higgenbotham’s family, that moment was bittersweet.

“I wish this would have been done back then because we didn’t get a chance to meet our grandfather because that’s something any kid would want,” said Wright.

The dedication of the marker for the 7 known victims of lynching in Lafayette County will be this Saturday at 2 p.m. on the Oxford Square.

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