Unspeakable Times

How A Brutal 1998 Lynching In Texas Changed Federal Hate Crime Laws Forever

In 1998, in the small town of Jasper, TX, a local sheriff heard the words "hate crime" for the first time. It was not the last, as the brutal death of a Black man, James Byrd Jr., at the hands of three white supremacists soon changed Jasper - and the United States - forever. The lynching sparked protests in the small town and received national attention.

The senseless and tragic murder led to important hate crime legislation in the United States, at both federal and state levels. Decades later, the name James Byrd Jr. is synonymous with strict punishment for acts committed out of hatred for a specific race, gender, or sexual orientation. Members of the Byrd family have also traveled the country working to end hate crimes through education.

Although Byrd's murder should never have happened, his death led to one of many laws named after victims that will memorialize him forever and help protect people for years to come.