Emmitt Till

I honestly cried as a 9th grader the first time I heard the story of Emmitt Till’s fate. It was far more emotional and less academic at that time in my life; however, the more I think about Till’s fate and the social condition that brought about it, I am reminded that the historical often time is the emotional. I am guilty of making history sound like a self-contained entity; it receives treatment that is thought provoking yet unemotional. My interest in the discipline of history started as an emotional venue; however, with age, degrees, academic success, and more readings… it became less emotional. But, when I have to talk about Till, I am reminded all too much that the human condition was shaped by the historical… even the ugly parts such as Till’s death; Till was in the news of late due to the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal in which bodies were moved to a dump sight for more space and cash.

His Story:

who was murdered[1] at the age of 14 in Money, Mississippi, a small town in the state’s Delta region, after reportedly whistling at a white woman. The murder of Emmett Till was noted as one of the leading events that motivated the American Civil Rights Movement.[1] The main suspects were acquitted, but later admitted to committing the crime.Till’s mother insisted on a public funeral service, with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing:[2] Till had been beaten up and his eye had been gouged out, before he was shot through the head and thrown into the Tallahatchie River with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied to his body with barbed wire. His body was in the river for three days before it was discovered and retrieved by two fishermen.

Till was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. The murder case was officially reopened in May 2004,[1] and as a part of the investigation, the body was exhumed so an autopsy could be performed.[3] The body was reburied in a new casket, which is a usual practice in cases of body exhumation, by the family in the same location later that week.[4] In July 2009, while his gravesite appeared undisturbed, his original casket, in which his battered body was famously displayed, was found rusting in a run-down shack on the cemetery grounds.


7 thoughts on “Emmitt Till

  1. EC, I have mixed thoughts here about the Emmitt Till casket controversy. My first opinion is disappointment for those politicians who are seizing this as an opportunity for getting on camera. I believe the family should have been asked about what they want to do with the original casket, since they probably had to pay for it in the first place. The good news is that it was not destroyed; is it possible that it could have rusted being underground for all those years? What most bothers me is the underlying assumptions about intent, which actually reinforce the destructive notions that led to the original crime. Secondly, I am disgusted by the racism that is being CREATED by all manner of ethnic backgrounds today. A few years ago as I was walking to class at PVAMU, a group of young men pointed their collective fingers at me and yelled aloud to everyone in the coutyard, “There goes another piece of white sh##!” I have friends who have experienced the same event, melanin-status reversed. Racism is a deadly, communicable disease that destroys life, from the inside out. Yes, I have stereotypes and prejudice operating in my unconscious, and I am ashamed of it. But the solution is NOT to draw lines in the dirt and face each other… the solution is to have supper together and confess our ignorance, one to another, so that we are able to name our demons and then be able to humbly laugh at our former misconceptions. My opinion.

  2. Whenever I think I’ve heard of every possible sinister thing committed against African-Americans, I learn about a new unimaginable atrocity. That was the emotion I felt when I first remember learning about Emmitt Till. I guess it was some time in the 80’s or early 90’s when I found out about his story. I’ll never understand why people did such evil things. What hurts even more is that many of them felt completely justified and unrepentant. I hope the days of that kind of activity are gone forever.

  3. Carson, this nearly brought tears to my eyes. I am glad to live in a country that has come so far since this act of cruelty, bigotry, and outright barbarism. This reminds me of the time I first heard Billy Holiday’s, Strange Fruit.

    I was also appalled when I heard of the grave dumping scheme, but hearing of it again makes me think of how the families of the deceased must have felt. My grandpa was put to rest in early July, but I can’t fathom how I would feel if I found out that his body was defiled in that way.

  4. I find this barabaric, but to me I find lynchings equal or greater atrocities. This was done out of some ill-begotten notion of revenge. Lynchings were done for entertainment and often times without any cause or motive other than “fun”. Both are deplorable, but this is similar to White gang activity in suburban southern cities. Again Both cases are terrible, but lynchings strike a different cord in my mind.

  5. This Emmett Till case occurred well before my time but spending my childhood in central Florida in the 1960’s, I vividly remember seeing the drinking fountains “White Only” and “Colored Only”. At 6 I asked my father why I can’t drink water with them or them with me. He replied he said “This is an unfortunate incident in the world we leave in. Someday I hope this stops. I quickly ran up to a colored fountain only to try to quickly take a sip. When a middle age African American stopped me. I said I just wanted to let them know I supported there struggle. But he answered the best I can recall “This is a battle that isn’t yours to fight but mine”. I left with my father not understanding what had just occurred. But when I lived in Detroit I remember the riots on TV. I told my father this is what that man in Florida was talking about. “Yes” my fathered answered “but its only the beginning”.

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