By Richard Ray:
Emmett Till was born on July 25, 1941. 2017 would have marked his 76th Birthday. Past tense of course because Emmett never lived to see much beyond his fourteenth birthday. The Chicago native was murdered on August 28, 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi.
He was killed because he was alleged to have been inappropriate with a married White female store clerk, including being flirtatious and whistling at her. Years later the woman, Carolyn Bryant would admit to fabricating her testimony that Till made verbal or physical advances toward her, but days after the alleged store incident her husband and his half brother abducted Emmett from his great uncle’s house. He was beaten and mutilated before eventually shot in the head and dumped in a river. His bloated body was found three days later. Brought back to Chicago, his mother insisted on an open casket as a reminder to all of what had been done. As you might have expected, an all white Mississippi jury acquitted the two men and double jeopardy laws prevented any further hope for justice when the two confessed to his murder a year after the acquittal.
I post this piece and the graphic picture, because Emmett Till’s death is a part of history that all people, but especially POC should never forget. His death is much more than a reference from a Kanye West song (“The Wire”). He is a reminder of an ugly time in American History, in which all people were not treated equally despite what the US Constitution mandated. Social injustices against POC are literally the foundation upon which America was built, from the treatment of Native Americans to hundreds of years of slavery.
I have heard far too many times that POC need to get over slavery, “cause it was a long time ago.” Jews will never let you forget the horrors of the Holocaust, why should Native Americans have to forget the genocide committed against their people or African Americans forget the atrocities committed throughout slavery. This is a part of America’s history. America can not act as the moral compass for the world without acknowledging and in some ways rectifying our own shortcomings and past. Slavery may have ended 152 years ago, but the attitudes that were so ingrained in dehumanizing a race of people still remain prevalent in later generations and are further seen in systemic racism that has been passed through government legislation that many (including myself) would argue still exists to this day.
Emmett Till was murdered in 1955. James Byrd was killed in Texas in 1998 by three white supremacists who tied his to a pickup truck and dragged him for more than 3 miles causing his death. Eric Garner… Trayvon Martin… Tamir Rice… History must never be forgotten because unfortunately it is not only part of our past but reminders of what we should strive for in the future with regards to social justice for all. If the graphic picture and story of Emmet Till’s death makes you angry, that is okay, but take that energy and use it in a positive way to promote change and speak out against injustice for all. Only an understanding of our past can help us gain perspective not only for how far we have come, but how much more we still need to achieve.
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