James Byrd Jr. was born and raised in Jasper, Texas. He was a staple in his community and known for his beautiful singing voice.
On June 7th, 1998, Byrd, a black 49 year old father of three, had just left a friend’s anniversary party and was walking home, when a pickup truck with three white supremacists picked him up. They drove to an isolated rural road where Mr. Byrd was tortured and brutally murdered, a tragedy that shocked the country.
The Byrd family committed themselves to fighting hate with love after they lost James. They created the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing to promote cultural diversity and fight hate crimes. Thanks to the tireless activism of the Byrd Family, the country’s hate crime laws were strengthened at both the state and federal levels. In 2001, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the James Byrd Hate Crimes Act into law, strengthening the penalties for bias motivated crimes in Texas. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, strengthening the legal tools available to prosecutors to bring assailants to justice.
While we must remember his death, we also take care to uplift Mr. Byrd’s life. Those that knew him best remember him as a talented musician and a loving father. He had dreams of becoming a famous musician and he would often tell friends and family that he would “put Jasper on the map.” Mr. Byrd continues to live on in the hearts and minds of anyone who learns his story. To further honor the life and legacy of Mr. Byrd, the Stop Hate Project of the Lawyers’ Committee renamed itself as the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate in early 2020. We are deeply humbled to support individuals and communities targeted for hate and combat white supremacy in Mr. Byrd’s name.