Recently, 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.”
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.