Honoring His Name and Legacy: Emmett Till

by | Jul 27, 2021 | Racism (Us vs Them)

Honoring His Name and Legacy: Emmett Till

by | Jul 27, 2021 | Racism (Us vs Them)

Sunday would have been the 80th birthday of Emmett Till, who at 14 was kidnapped, whipped, mutilated and murdered by white supremacist thugs in Mississippi in an act so savage it helped spark the civil rights movement.

Reposted from Common Dreams with permission, by Abby Zimet

If he’d been allowed to live his “one wild and precious life,” Sunday would have been the 80th birthday of Emmett Till, who at 14 was kidnapped, whipped, mutilated and murdered by white supremacist thugs in Mississippi in an act so savage it helped spark the civil rights movement.

Till grew up in Chicago after his family, like millions of black Americans, left the Jim Crow South as part of the Great Migration. In the summer of 1955, he happily traveled to the Delta to visit relatives; he had just turned 14 and loved to fish, ride bikes, play baseball. After he went with his cousin to buy bubble gum at Bryant’s Grocery Store and allegedly, once outside, whistled at the white woman who served him, he was seized in the middle of the night by half-brothers Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam – the woman’s husband and brother-in-law – and taken to a barn.

Over the next few hours, the two men, likely with several others, beat and tortured him before shooting him in the face. They tied a 75-pound cotton-gin fan around his neck with barbed wire and threw his naked body into the Tallahatchie River. When he was found a few days later, he had a dislodged eye, a detached ear, a broken leg, two broken wrists and a .45 caliber bullet in his skull. After the bloated body was returned to Chicago, his mother Mamie Till-Mobley famously insisted his casket be open for his funeral, because “I just wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” Over 100,000 came to the funeral; many more viewed the body after she allowed Jet Magazine to publish photos.

Three months after he was pulled from the river, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus – she said she was thinking of Till – and the seminal Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Today, Till’s casket lies in D.C’s  National Museum of African American History and Culture, the only object in the museum that no one is allowed to photograph.

After a five-day trial before an all-white, all-male jury urged by the defense to do their duty as “Anglo-Saxons,” Bryant and Milam were acquitted. The next year, they got paid $4,000 for an interview in  Look magazine in which they confessed to the murder; in 2017, his accuser Carolyn Bryant admitted she’d lied. Today, white kids in Mississippi schools can grow up rarely if ever hearing Till’s name,  especially if they attend private “seg academies” that arose after integration. “Slipping free of the generational guilt and shame of this particular murder – a proxy for so many acts of violence and cruelty, large and small – remains a central part of a white child’s education in the Delta,” writes Wright Thompson, who offers harrowing details of the horrors in the barn, “a mourning bench for black Americans, ordinary and freighted” – the kid passing by who heard the screams, the cottonseeds the men threw on the floor to hide the blood, the enduring pain of his cousin Wheeler Parker, now 82, who took the trip with him and mourns him still.

Like many, Thompson views Till as emblematic of a still-backward south – Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddamn – where health care and education rate among the lowest in the country, as do COVID vaccines; a plaque memorializing Till was shot up so many times officials erected a bulletproof one; and textbooks, if they mention him, call Till a “man” while suggesting Tamir shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun and Travon didn’t need to wear that hoodie.

Today, over 20 states run by a Stone-Age GOP are trying to eliminate from schools any references to white privilege, racial equity or our blood-stained history, wrongly dubbing it all part of a Very Scary “critical race theory” they haven’t read. In a new low, Texas wants to essentially remove people of color from the narrative by cutting over two dozen curriculum requirements to teach about MLK, Frederick Douglass, Cesar Chavez, slavery, Native American history and a “morally wrong” KKK.

On Sunday, many gathered to honor Emmett Till, his legacy, the “grief and courage” of his mother, and the need to fight the extant racism that killed him. Emmett Till should have turned 80. Say his name.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
– William Faulkner in Requiem For A Nun


Abby ZimetAbby Zimet has written CD’s Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, thinning the carrots, hauling too much water, experiencing true if ragged community, and writing. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women’s, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues.

<a href="http://commondreams.org" target="_blank">Common Dreams</a>

Common Dreams

Common Dreams has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 1997. They are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

police car at street
Jan 20 2022

Wait, There’s More — Now Republicans Want an Election Police Force

Both former gubernatorial candidate David Perdue and Florida Governor DeSantis are proposing an election police force to bolster the Big Lie from Trump that the 2020...
Jan 16 2022

Trump Continues to Tell Us What He Is: A Racist

In the four years Trump spent in the White House, he set back progress against racism and white supremacy decades. And he wants to keep this degradation of American...
Jan 07 2022

Reality Check: Fascism and the Return of the Book Burners

Fascism has a playbook, handed down from generations of dictators, all who ascended to power using this easy-to-follow checklist. Part of that checklist is doing away...
Jan 03 2022

Racial Discrimination in Farm Policies Is Destroying Black Farms

Blatant racial discrimination has driven hundreds of thousands of good, Black farmers off the land.
A young African American woman casting her ballot in 1964
Jan 01 2022

Priority List for 2022: Voting Rights, Voting Rights and Voting Rights

The former guy complained that expanding voting rights would set a stage where “Republicans could never get elected again.” Frankly, since the Republican...
Dec 30 2021

Nazis, White Supremacy and the Dark Heart of Hatred

Intellectuals and intelligent people in general are capable of rapidly recognizing bullshit when they see it. So it is easy to see why the leaders of ineffectuals hate...
Dec 16 2021

Has the Republican Party Become a Terrorist Group?

The radicalized faction of what used to be the Republican Party has been cozying up to the most radical, racist and violent right wing terrorist factions in our country...
Dec 08 2021

Most Slave Plantation Tours Omit the Horrors of Slavery

Even now, discussions during plantation tours among visitors can often turn into visceral debates over whether the history of slavery should be told or ignored.
Nov 20 2021

The Travesty of the Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict

The [Kyle Rittenhouse] verdict, said the Huber family, sends the “unacceptable message” that armed vigilantes can “use the danger they have created to...
Nov 18 2021

Rights Groups Push for Expulsion of Paul Gosar from Congress

Rep. Paul Gosar’s violent video has spurred widespread backlash and many thousands of people have signed a petition urging his expulsion from Congress.
Subscribe for Updates!

Subscribe for Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This