• Vânia Penha-Lopes

EMMETT TILL (1941-1955)

Updated: Aug 31, 2020



Today is the 65th anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till, a Chicago 14-year-old who, when visiting his relatives in Mississippi, was accused of "wolf-whistling" to a White woman. The woman's husband and his brother yanked Emmett from his uncle's home and shot and beat him up so severely that he was left disfigured. Mamie Till, Emmett's mother, insisted on an open casket so that the world could witness what had been done to her son.

Scholars have argued that Till's lynching was masterminded by the White Citizens' Council, a group of well-connected White southerners (including wealthy men, politicians, and police officers) formed right after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, the one that overturned legal segregation. Vowing to keep "segregation forever," they purportedly ordered the brutal murder in order to teach "ni--ers" a lesson; the fact that the murderers were acquitted lends credence to that argument. They may have also singled out Emmett because he was born and raised in Chicago, a product of the Great Migration (1914-1960), a time when millions of southern Blacks left for the other U.S. regions; used to different social relations "up south" (the moniker Blacks had given Chicago), northern and midwestern Blacks were deemed too "uppity" by southern Whites.

Only relatively recently did the woman for whose "honor" Emmett had been sacrificed admit that the teenager had not come on to her. That she waited until 2007 to confess to her part in that completely avoidable tragedy makes me wonder whether she feared the fate of her soul after her own death.

As we can see, though "BLACK LIVES MATTER" is a contemporary slogan, the topic to which it refers is not at all new. Like George Floyd's murder 75 years later, Emmett Till's reinforced the fight for Blacks to have the right to live in peace.

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