Posts Tagged ‘Emmett Till’

Matthew ShepardRecently, Arthur wrote about Matthew Shepard’s interment, a surprising ending of a two-decades-long journey.

In case you are unfamiliar, per NPR: “Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally killed on a chilly night in Wyoming 20 years ago… was finally laid to rest at Washington National Cathedral… A reflective, music-filled service offered stark contrast to the anti-gay protests that marred his funeral two decades ago.”

The music included Lacrimosa from the Mozart Requiem, which always affects me greatly. His parents had been afraid to bury him in Wyoming, lest his grave be ransacked.

Somehow, that murder became a flashpoint where other crimes of that nature had not. “Shepard’s killing became the basis for a play, The Laramie Project, which brought widespread attention to the problem of homophobia.” The events were the subject of a 2002 TV movie, The Matthew Shepard Story.

“Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, established the Matthew Shepard Foundation and became activists for gay rights and more vigorous prosecution of hate crimes.”
emmett till

It occurred to me that, in some basic ways, his death paralleled that of Emmett Till, the Chicago-born black teenager who was murdered, purportedly for whistling at a white woman, in rural Mississippi in August 1955. The woman in the case has only recently recanted her allegation.

His brutal demise, which helped energize the efforts for black equality, has been the subject of Dreaming Emmett, the first play by the Nobel-winning African-American writer Toni Morrison, in 1986, and the Oscar-nominated short film My Nephew Emmett (2017), both of which I have seen.

The parallels are interesting. Neither victim was a publicly known person; they weren’t activists in their respective civil rights struggles. Yet because Emmett’s mother had his battered body photographed in an open casket, because we saw the fence upon which Matthew was symbolically crucified, they were remembered nationally far beyond how the average murder victim is recalled.

As I’ve mentioned here more than once, Emmett Till’s death has haunted me ever since I saw the photos in either JET or Ebony magazine in 1960. When some idiot pseudo-Christian group came to Albany to protest a production of The Laramie Project at Albany High School in 2009, I was one of the great number of counter-protesters.

It’s kismet the way some lives, and deaths, transcend to tell the larger story.

There are uncomfortable parallels between the deaths of Emmett Till and Philando Castile, as the special “Hope & Fury: MLK, The Movement, and The Media” pointed out. The special was broadcast on NBC-TV March 24, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it until a week and a half later.

Emmett Till, who narrator Lester Holt suggested every black person in America knows about – is that true? – was a 14-year-old black youth from Chicago who was visiting his uncle in rural Mississippi. He was lynched on August 28, 1955, after a white woman said that she was offended by him in her family’s grocery store. She has only recently recanted that tale.

Philando Castile was shot and killed by a local Minnesota police officer after the car was pulled over on July 6, 2016, with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter in the vehicle.

In the Till case, it was the decision of Emmett’s mother Mamie to allow, nay, insist on photographers to take pictures of her now-misshapen son. In the Castile case, girlfriend Diamond Reynolds had the wherewithal to livestream ten minutes of video via Facebook.

The MLK special also noted the fickle nature of the mainstream press. It was only the black press that covered some of the seminal stories of the civil rights movement, such as the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955/56.

“When MLK’s peaceful protests aren’t covered by the national media in Albany, Georgia, he organized a children’s march in Birmingham, Alabama, making for some of the most powerful, iconic imagery of the civil rights movement.”

In general, the MSM was attracted if the action included white people – the freedom riders, e.g., or they can establish a clear good guy/bad guy narrative, as in the children’s march, when dogs and fire hoses were unleashed.

“Hope & Fury” pointed out the parallels between the bloody Selma march of March 7, 1965, and the demonstrations occurring after some young black children and men, with the social media-savvy demonstrators willing to challenge the accepted narrative in the latter case.

As Arthur noted: “The USA has so very far to go before achieving Dr. King’s dream. Not only is the promised land he glimpsed still over that mountaintop, the mountain is much higher than any of us could have imagined.”

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More than half of his voters say the nonexistent Bowling Green Massacre is proof his immigration ban is necessary. BTW, it never happened, and Kellyanne Conway’s remark wasn’t a slip of the tongue, as she has said it before

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Americans Now Evenly Divided Read the rest of this entry »


Emmett Till disappeared 60 years ago today; his mutilated body was found three days later. His mother allowed photos to be taken of his open casket, and the horrifying pictures helped galvanize the Civil Rights movement, including the “I Have a Dream” speech eight years, to the day, later.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I want to know why it is Read the rest of this entry »

At some level, I’m not a very nostalgic guy. As Billy Joel put it in Keeping the Faith, and I quote, The good old days weren’t always good. It seems as though, in the US, there are dreams of the 1950s being the “good old days”, represented by TV shows such as Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best, with dad out working all day, with mom home raising the kids and wearing pearls when her husband came home for dinner. It was never MY experience.

The 1950s were a period of the cold war paranoia of “duck and cover”, and an unsettling racial climate Read the rest of this entry »

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