Hatred Haunts the Legacy of Emmett Till

It seems as if we’re destined to forever witness the world wake up from history. Is it coincidence or destiny that five officers lost their lives in Dallas on July 6, 201 in an incident seemingly caused by hundreds of years of racial animus? Micah Johnson, described as a reclusive U.S. Army reservist, was blown to bits for his alleged transgression.

Of that incident, one can’t help but wonder whether this shocking explosion of violence was actually unthinkable, or simply the eventual? With the release of Ava DuVernay’s 13TH on Netflix, we see a racist path of destruction march through history right up to the door step of contemporary times. 

 Today, common Americans are saturated by information, yet despite having it at our fingertips, we are as ignorant as ever.  But for every action there are certainly equal but opposite reactions, right?

Time and space are so malleable if we pay attention. Like stones tossed into a still pond, actions ripple forward. The frequency with which certain events intercede with others on their paths forward can be deemed as everything from divine to sheer coincidence, but they impact us all the same.

In the eyes of history’s witnesses recalling times long gone, the crazy times in which we live will eventually make sense. However, right now it’s hard to see it. History remembers the death of Emmett Till as the catalyst behind helping the Civil Rights Movement get up and running. He and Trayvon Martin inhabit a morbid brotherhood.

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Indeed, every explosion needs fuel. With his death came the hope that the enemies of justice and diversity would wilt and fade with a change in the American mindset. The energy, inspired by hope, was so pure and seemingly limitless back then. Yet that energy finds itself inert in modern times.

Why? It’s hard to tell. But the counter energy of hate that killed Emmett Till is alive and is as hideous as it has ever been. Almost a decade ago, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission placed eight commemorative signs marking his last moments. Meant to spark tourism, the signs have proven to be a barometer of racial animus in the area.

Every year since 2007, a sign marking the location where Till’s body was found floating in the Tallahatchie River 61 years ago has been vandalized. Today, it is riddled with bullet holes. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, were set free by an all-white jury but later admitted to kidnapping, torturing and murdering Till in an magazine interview. The placard marking the former home of admitted murderer J.W. Milam is untouched and has decorative plants surrounding it.

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As our nation fights for its own soul, there is a desperate streak of fear permeating the ether. A fear of a black and brown nation, old fears steeped in bigotry, lies and hate have galvanized and emboldened those claiming the failed and treasonous Confederacy as their inspiration and birthright.

This is what makes Emmett Till’s life and death worthy of remembrance. Forgetting the pain of his mother Mamie Till, and the boldness of his killers, places racial justice further away than it ever has seen. 

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