Saturday, June 12, 2010

Emmett Till -An indispensable piece of American history!

June 17, 2010

When you celebrate Father’s Day, remember Emmett Till.

Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till would be 69 years old; probably a father and grand father and perhaps a great grand father. Who knows what his children might have been. They may have preceded Barack Obama as the first African American president. But Emmett died at the age of fourteen. He was murdered by a group of bigoted thugs, with the help of some blacks.

In August 1955, Till supposedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman in a grocery store that she and her husband owned in Money, Mississippi. Three days later, two white men dragged him from his bed in his uncle’s home, beat him brutally and then shot him in the head. His mutilated body was found in the muddy Tallahatchie River. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who died in 2003, held a three day open-casket funeral in Chicago, and a photograph of Till's disfigured and decomposed face was displayed in Jet Magazine. She said "let them see what they have done to my boy”. The photograph stirred and motivated the nation. His death motivated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks was quoted as saying "I thought of Emmett Till, and when the bus driver ordered me to move to the back and I just couldn’t move."

Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband at the time, and J. W. Milam were arrested for the murder but were acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury. The men later confessed in an interview with Look magazine. How could Bryant and Milam hate and kill a fourteen year old juvenile? Because they believed their actions were completely justified.

Does racism run that deep? I must presume the answer is yes. It is unfortunate that people find a way to hate people who are different from themselves. Racism is not only the bad attitude by people with different color skin, but it refers also to people that feel superior to others. Many of the less intelligent of the country have attitudes about other races. Some of the truly ignorant southern people even today hate blacks.

Southern whites, such as Bryant and Milam, and every member of the jury that freed them, did everything in their power to keep African-Americans in a downgraded and substandard social position. How and why did they feel justified by committing such an immoral and shameful act? At that time in Mississippi, it was unheard of for an African American to even glance at a white woman, or to publicly accuse a white of committing a crime.

The nation was also complicit in creating a climate of fear and hatred. In 1857 Chief Justice Robert B. Taney of the United States Supreme Court wrote the opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford: ‘In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument. “They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit’.

Taney’s name should be listed along with Adolph Hitler, Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, and George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party as some of histories worst criminals. The South should idolize and commemorate Taney as much as they celebrate Robert E. Lee. Taney is the instigator and creator of the contention and affirmation that “The Negro Has No Rights” and the nation at that time adopted his premise. Not too much had changed even now.

Taney’s pronouncement could easily be classified as ‘hate speech’, because hate speech creates an environment of hate and prejudice that legitimizes violence, as in the Emmett Till slaying, and it is not limited to a few isolated instances or any one. Hate speech against vulnerable groups is pervasive in our society today.

We must remember Emmett Till, his mother and uncle, Money Mississippi, Leflore County, Tallahatchie County, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sumner Mississippi, and places where pioneers of the movement marched, sat-in at lunch counters, gathered in churches; where they spoke, taught, and organized; where they were arrested, and where they lost their lives.

Emmett Till’s birthday is July 25 so along with July 4 you now have two dates in July to observe.
Till is buried at the Burr Oak Cemetery, in Alsip, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, with his mother and grandmother. My parents are buried there also. Although four former cemetery employees are accused of disturbing hundreds of gravesites in a plot-reselling scheme, the Cook County Sheriff said the slain youth’s gravesite was not disturbed.

You should visit the Emmett Till Multipurpose Complex and Tallahatchie County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism in Sumner, Mississippi. This is a chance for us to learn, remember and be proud of a group of people who struggled to make changes and remember the men and women that are etched into our national memory.

Please listen the Bernie Hayes radio program Monday through Friday at 7am on WGNU-920 AM, and watch the Bernie Hayes TV program Saturday Night at 10 pm and Friday Morning at 9 am on KNLC-TV Ch. 24.

I can be reached by e-mail at:

Be Ever Wonderful!