Emmett Till was born on this date in 1941. He would have been 76 years old today. pic.twitter.com/LLGXtM613i
— Philip Lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) July 25, 2017
Had Emmitt Till not been brutally murdered for a crime he didn’t commit he would have been 76 today. I don’t mean to step on AL’s post, but I think it is appropriate to not let the anniversary of his birth, and the memory of a life cut tragically short by racism, hatred, and intolerance.
In the summer of 1955, 14-year-old African-American Emmett Till had gone on vacation from Chicago to visit family in Money, Mississippi. He was shopping at a store owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant—and someone said he whistled at Mrs. Bryant, a white woman.
At some point around August 28, he was kidnapped, beaten, shot in the head, had a large metal fan tied to his neck with barbed wire, and was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. His body was soon recovered, and an investigation was opened.
It took fewer than four weeks for the case to go to trial: Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam were accused of the murder, and an all white, all male jury acquitted both of them. No one else was ever indicted or prosecuted for involvement in the kidnapping or murder. Bryant and Milam, though, later confessed and told a magazine journalist all the grisly details of their crime. They are both, now, long deceased.
In May 2004, the FBI reopened the investigation to determine if other individuals were involved, working with the Mississippi District Attorney, U.S. Attorney, federal attorneys, and local law enforcement. Till’s body was exhumed for an autopsy in 2005. In March 2006, the FBI announced that information developed in its exhaustive investigation confirmed the Department of Justice’s earlier conclusion that the five-year statute of limitations on any potential federal criminal civil rights violation had expired, thereby precluding federal prosecution of this case. The FBI reported the results of its investigation to Joyce Chiles, the District Attorney for the Fourth Judicial District of Mississippi.
Although justice has not been served in the case, the tragic murder helped galvanize the growing civil rights movement in this country in the 1950s and beyond.
Here are the links to the FBI’s 2006 investigative report. Part 1. Part 2.
We now know, thanks to a recently published biography of Till/history of the Till case that his accuser lied.
The effect of Tyson’s wide-angled framing is especially pronounced in the bombshell revelation that Carolyn Bryant—the white woman who originally claimed Till grabbed and sexually harassed her in her husband’s store—lied about those claims. Media coverage has focused on that explosive admission and the conversation around redemption that it seems to spark, but Tyson’s book, in the end, is largely unconcerned with that line of inquiry. Bryant’s testimony on the stand and her later admission have little to do, in this narrative, with her own battle with guilt; rather, they serve to advance Tyson’s thesis that culpability for Till’s death rests on millions of shoulders. The unlikely thing, he argues, was not that Emmett Till was lynched, but that his lynching actually stirred a national response.
And goes on to level a searing indictment against America – both at the time of Till’s murder and today.
Perhaps most importantly, Tyson considers all the ways in which an American populace was complicit in its acceptance of violence against black people—and then considers all the ways in which it is still complicit in the deaths of people of color today. For instance, in his examination of the Citizens’ Councils’ literature, which fomented mass fears of black criminality and fantasies of rampant black sexual deviancy, Tyson also shows how poor white “peckerwoods” were loathed by wealthier white people, and manipulated into doing the bloody business of physical violence. In this, he provides a thinly veiled parable for today’s politics in how the rhetoric of white supremacy—even in its subtlest dog-whistle form—is used to radicalize people, and how the uneasy detente between classes of white people is often maintained by propaganda built around the threat of the other, even as the culpability is passed to the lowest rungs. “We blame them,” Tyson writes about those radicalized perpetrators of physical violence, “to avoid seeing that the lynching of Emmett Till was caused by the nature and history of America itself and by a social system that has changed over the decades, but not as much as we pretend.”
Thanks for this reminder, Adam. We have made a few steps forward in (mostly) taking the killing of black people out of the hands of poor white peckerwoods and putting it in the hands of police officers, but there’s obviously a long way to go.
Kind of germane to this post and today’s vote in the Senate, today Adam Serwer tweeted ” Don’t assume Republican voters will blame their reps for this. They are primed to punish other vulnerable people, not elites, for scarcity.”
Possibly the most succinct expression of where we are today.
Adam L Silverman
@seaboogie: Generations of social conditioning and acculturation.
We went to the NAAMHC a few months ago. It was busy, and very interesting. But there was a huge line to see one of the exhibits. It was the Emmett Till exhibit.
We need to go back and see it, and to see the rest of the museum again. It’s an amazing place.
I always forget how recent this murder was. Emmitt Till was only three years younger than my own father. I was born 14 years after his murder, and the world had already changed irrevocably in that span of time.
@Adam L Silverman: And the powers that be stirring the pot to their own benefit.
It would be an interesting and very large-ranging study to explore what this country has achieved in periods of division and periods of unity, and the forces that drove that.
Thanks for posting this, Adam. I’d imagine if we go much further down the Trump highway to hell, lynchings may resume.
I am deeply pessimistic about our future. Mostly because of our past. But still I will fight on! Pessimism is no excuse for inaction. And I’m pissed as hell, too.
Adam L Silverman
@Raoul: Hope is not a strategy, but hope is necessary to survive and implement one’s strategy. So keep the faith and hold the line.
? ?? Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) ? ?
@Adam L Silverman: Hey Adam could you get my previous post out of spam or something? It won’t post
go to youtube and watch the Trump rallies set to Pink Floyd’s in the Flesh.
Those crowds would’ve tried to kill the “test taker” in Milgram’s experiment
Well…sort of. Now it’s the passive/agressive, anonymous social media-informed action, which is leaving nooses in places – and that is actually happening, including at the Black History Museum in DC.
I was feeling very hopeless this evening, until I read the NYT interview with Auntie Maxine:
I bought a box of 100 postcards and a coil of stamps, but I’ve been putting off writing them with the excuse that my hands will hurt. Now this gives me inspiration.
That crime that Emmett Till committed, wasn’t a crime.
@Mary G: Good, good. We have to do what we can. Thanks for your efforts!
Adam L Silverman
@? ?? Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) ? ?: It is free. It, along with 3 copies of it and one repost/try it again, went into the trash folder for some reason.
Adam L Silverman
@Viva BrisVegas: It was in Mississippi in the 1950s.
I was 15 When Till was murdered.
In college I read Black Like Me and was arrested for taking part in a sit-in in the second semester of my senior year in college (1960-61). My 1st year of grad school I did a lot of reading about the history of race relations in the US. One book that made a major impression on me was A Man Called White by a black man who could pass for white and did a lot of investigating for the NAACP in the south in the 30s. In another book I read of the statement by George Wallace who claimed he first ran for office appealing to the common concerns of blacks and poor whites. He said he was ‘out n****red’ by his opponent and never did so again.
(I find it interesting that I learned about the Scottsboro boys from reading Native Son one summer when I was in high school.)
While we are talking about racism, this is the text of a speech Trump gave at a rally in Ohio on Tuesday.
“The predators and criminal aliens who poison our communities with drugs and prey on innocent young people. These beautiful, beautiful innocent people will find no safe haven anywhere in our country. And you’ve seen the stories about some of these animals. They don’t want to use guns because it’s too fast and not painful enough. So they’ll take a young, beautiful girl, sixteen, fifteen and others. And they slice ’em and dice ’em with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.”
Predators and criminal aliens.
I think it has a resonance on Emmett Till’s birthday.
@Raoul: Lynching as recent as 2014 in NC Maybe you remember James Byrd’s murder in Jasper, TX in 1998
Villago Delenda Est
@Viva BrisVegas: Keep in mind that Donald does a lot of projecting.
All of the white folk who lied and killed Till should have their graves dug up and their bodies desecrated. Preferably by being dumped out at sea.
Too many have been allowed to get away with evil. And they passed it on to each following generation.
Emmitt Till should have been able to become a senior citizen.
I have older siblings who are around that age-some of them very venturesome. They were able to live because their mom moved north and they grew up here. I look at them when I wonder about why mom moved up north.
And those horrible days are what Trump refers to “the good old days”. Days when it took courage even to protest unjustified killings like Till’s.
July 25 was my late mother’s birthday, and in all that time, I never knew that she shared it with Emmett Till.
So thank you for that knowledge, Adam. I will commemorate him always as I remember her day.
We must never forget Emmett and Mamie Till, and the justice they did not get.
We owe a debt to Maimie Till, who insisted on an open casket funeral, for all the world to see what they had done to her son. And, a thanks to the Black press-the Chicago Defender and then Jet Magazine, for making sure that the picture went national.
That was the late Walter White. Former Head of the NAACP. White was blond hair blue eyes and refused to pass.
Also a debt to the Pullman Porters ,who made sure that the body got out of Mississippi.
Thanks for this post, Adam.
White “peckerwoods” have been doing the dirty business of their southern gentry oppressors for centuries (I mean, who was it but them who got shot to pieces at Gettysburg and Antietam and Shiloh?) Any time they want to stop doing so and realize they have common cause with blacks would be fine with me. You can lead a jackass to water….
Late but thank you Adam.