Tuesday, August 28, 2012

EMMETT TILL JULY 25, 1941 – AUGUST 28, 1955

We know some of the story of African American Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat in the "Colored" section of a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a White man who could not find a seat in the "White" section of the crowded bus. Over the almost 57 years since then (December 1, 1955) there have been various stories written about her reasons including that she was tired after a hard day’s work as a seamstress. However Ms Parks debunked that myth when she said: "I thought about Emmett Till and I could not go back. My legs and feet were not hurting, that is a stereotype. I paid the same fare as others and I felt violated." The impact of the brutal murder on August 28, 1955 of the African American teenager Emmett Louis Till was felt by African Americans of all ages and is considered pivotal in the Civil Rights struggle. Famous African American boxer Muhammed Ali shared his memories of the impact: "Emmett Till and I were about the same age. A week after he was murdered. I stood on the corner with a gang of boys, looking at pictures of him in the black newspapers and magazines. In one, he was laughing and happy. In the other, his head was swollen and bashed in, his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his mouth twisted and broken. His mother had done a bold thing. She refused to let him be buried until hundreds of thousands marched past his open casket in Chicago and looked down at his mutilated body. [I] felt a deep kinship to him when I learned he was born the same year and day I was. My father talked about it at night and dramatized the crime. I couldn't get Emmett out of my mind." Ali and thousands of African Americans had read about and seen the grisly photographs of Till’s gruesomely mutilated body in several issues of African American owned Jet Magazine (September 15 1955, September 22, 1955, September 29, 1955, October 6, 1955, October 13, 1955, November 24 1955, January 26, 1956, June 21, 1956, June 28, 1956 and February 28 1957.) The late celebrated African American lawyer Johnnie L. Cochrane also shared his memories of the impact felt when he heard of Till’s murder: "I was a senior at Los Angeles High School in California. It had a profound affect on me because I understood that it could have happened to any of us. It shook my confidence. It was as though terrorists had struck -- but it was terrorists from our own country. It made me want to do everything I could to make sure this event would not happen ever again." Similar to the murder of 17 year old unarmed African American Trayvon Martin, Till’s lynching garnered international attention (the story of Till’s lynching was reported in the international press including newspapers in Belgium, Germany and France) even though countless African Americans had been lynched by White Americans. For example on May 7, 1955 the Reverend George W. Lee (52 years old) a Baptist minister, grocery store owner and NAACP field worker in Belzoni, Mississippi, was shot and killed at point blank range while driving in his car after making an unsuccessful bid to vote. On August 13, 1955 in Brookhaven, Mississippi, Lamar Smith, another African American man (63 years old) who was a farmer and World War I veteran was shot to death in broad daylight at close range on the lawn of the Lincoln County courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi in the presence of several witnesses, after casting his ballot. Both victims had been active in voter registration drives. No one was ever arrested for either murder even though Jet Magazine in its May 26, 1955 issue reported on the lynching of Reverend Lee. There are countless instances of African American men, women and children lynched by white Americans who were never held accountable for these inhumane crimes against humanity. Many of the lynched African American men were accused like the 14 year old Till of looking at White women or just being in the presence of white women.
Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American male born in Chicago on July 25, 1941 the only child of Mamie Till Mobley. During the summer of 1955 Till Mobley sent her son to Money, Mississippi to spend time with her uncle Moses "Mose" Wright. There are differing versions of Till’s interaction on August 25, 1955 with the 21 year old white woman who worked in the neighbourhood grocery store “Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market.” The stories range from Till smiling at the white woman, whistling, winking or merely looking her in the eye all of which apparently were hanging offences in the southern states if you were an African American male. Keith Andre Beauchamp who is the driving force behind the documentary "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till" launched August 17, 2005 reportedly found during his exhaustive investigation of the case that the white woman was "not the white-lily queen everybody says she was, and it was said that she made up the whole lie to teach husband Roy" – who had left her alone in the store – "a lesson." There are countless instances of African American men throughout the history of the USA who were lynched on flimsy "evidence."
The 14 year old Till was dragged out of the house of his great-uncle Mose Wright around 2:30 a.m on August 28, 1955 kidnapped by Roy Bryant the husband of the white woman (Carolyn Bryant) from the grocery store who had returned from his out of town jaunt. Bryant was accompanied by his older half-brother John William "J.W" Milam and they both dragged Till out of the house despite Wright’s pleading. Three days later on August 31, 1955 Till’s horribly disfigured nude body with a 70 pound industrial fan fastened around his neck with barbed wire was taken out of the Tallahatchie River. The 14 year old had been so brutally beaten and tortured that his face was unrecognizable where he had been shot above the right ear, his nose broken and his right eye gouged out. Surprisingly for that time and place there was a trial where not surprisingly Bryant and Milam were acquitted of the murder of Till. A few months later both murderers gave an interview published in Look Magazine (January 24, 1956) where they admitted to committing the heinous crime against Till. The article entitled “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” was written by William Bradford Huie.
It was Mamie Till’s determined advocacy that contributed to a second investigation many decades later. It was also this feisty African American woman’s determination that prevented her son’s body being buried in Mississippi where no one would have seen the evidence of the brutish, barbaric white supremacist culture which permitted and condoned his murder. Instead she fought the system including the sheriff and other Mississippi politicians insisting that her son’s body be returned to Chicago where the world saw what Bryant, Milam and white supremacy had done to her child. In an interview just before she transitioned in 2003 Till Mobley spoke about the day she saw her child’s body: "I looked at the bridge of his nose and it looked like someone had taken a meat chopper and chopped it. And I looked at his teeth because I took so much pride in his teeth. His teeth were the prettiest things I'd ever seen in my life, I thought. And I only saw two. Well, where are the rest of them? They had just been knocked out. And I was looking at his ears, and that's when I discovered a hole about here and I could see daylight on the other side. I said, 'Now, was it necessary to shoot him?'" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAemBpFM1NI and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1fBwUzcqa0)
Mamie Till Mobley never gave up fighting for justice for her only child. On January 3, 2003 she transitioned to be with the ancestors. The men who lynched her child both supposedly died of cancer Milam in 1981 and Bryant in 1994. Carolyn Bryant at 78 years old (born 1934) is still alive and lives somewhere in the USA where according to an article published in New York Times on July 31, 2005 she is guarded by a man who claims to be her son and threatened to kill the writer of the article if he “ever tried to contact his mother.” In 2007, Tallahatchie County issued a formal apology to Till's family which read: "We the citizens of Tallahatchie County recognize that the Emmett Till case was a terrible miscarriage of justice. We state candidly and with deep regret the failure to effectively pursue justice. We wish to say to the family of Emmett Till that we are profoundly sorry for what was done in this community to your loved one."

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