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Congress Sends Bill to Obama on Civil Rights-Era Killings

Simeon Wright, right, cousin of Emmett Till and Cook County sheriff Thomas Dart view the original casket of Emmett Till held in a storage room at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, on Friday, July 10, 2009. (Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)Chicago Tribune MCT via Getty Images

Congress has sent legislation to President Barack Obama’s desk that would continue reviews of racially motivated killings in the civil rights era that are now cold cases.

The legislation passed by voice vote at the end of the congressional session early Saturday. It would indefinitely extend a 2007 law that calls for a full accounting of race-based deaths, many of which had been closed for decades. The law expires next year.

More than 100 cases from the 1960s and earlier have been checked out so far, with one conviction. But new racially suspicious deaths have been identified for investigation. In many cases such crimes were poorly investigated and prosecutions were rare.

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The bill is named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy killed in 1955 after whistling at a white woman. His killers were acquitted of murder but later admitted their crimes to a reporter and couldn’t be retried.

North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard Burr and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill sponsored the bill in the Senate. In the House, civil rights icon John Lewis, D-Ga., House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, and Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin negotiated the bill.

The law provides federal resources to local jurisdictions to look into the cases. The bill would also require the Justice Department and the FBI to consult with civil rights organizations, universities and others who had been gathering evidence on the deaths. It also extends the time span of cases to be considered to December 31, 1979.