Back in March, I had my husband take this picture of me, still using it as my Facebook profile.

Life has its moods and swings, ups and downs, and so does this blog. As much as I was renewed by my post honoring Ms. Irene, and encouraged by Angela Blackwell, I am drained by this post. I knew I would be and put it off for weeks, not wanting to dive into the horror of it, but it’s just as important now—as it was in the past—for the truth not to be buried. We all know too well the story of Trayvon Martin and ask the question how can this be happening in 2012? From the time I first heard of Trayvon’s murder I saw the obvious comparison to Emmett Till. Both stories captured global consciousness in a singular way even as MANY similar tragedies—then and now—go unreported. Many of you also know Emmitt Till’s story well, and I’m certain that many of you don’t. So here we go.

I caution you if you choose to watch the videos and research further online about Emmett Till; the details and visuals are disturbing.

Trayvon Martin

Emmett Till

On August 21,1955 Emmett Louis Till, a black 14-year old boy from Chicago, arrived in the Money, Mississippi area to visit family. He was the only child of Mamie and Louis Till and before he left Chicago, Mamie coached him on “proper behavior” for blacks in the south. A week later Emmett was brutally tortured and murdered, his body weighted and thrown in the Tallahatchie River.

The details of what provoked this horrid act are still disputed, but involved some kind of innocent interaction between Emmett and the white wife of grocery store owner, Roy Bryant: Emmett may have whistled at Carolyn Bryant or said “Bye, baby” as he left the store, innocently defying a severe social caste system.

In the early morning hours the next day, Emmett was awakened from sleep at the home of his great-uncle Mose Wight and Roy Bryant and his brother J.W. Milam kidnapped him. Emmett Till was never seen alive again. Bryant and Milam admitted to kidnapping, but lied about releasing him the same night in front of Bryan’t store. An all white, male jury deliberated for one hour and acquitted the men of murder.

Mamie Till when the box arrived carrying her son’s body.

The local Mississippi law enforcers prepared to have a funeral and bury Emmett but Mamie Till insisted that her son’s body be returned to Chicago. A.A. Rayner, the funeral director, had been instructed not to open the box. Mamie asked if he had a hammer, saying, “….if you can’t open the box, I can…” When she saw the  unrecognizable body of her son she made a brave and iconic decision to have an open casket.

“I wanted the world to come in and see,
and that’s when I decided to let the world come in and see,
because it was something that I could not handle it alone.”

We all know that this type of southern American terrorism was common place in the 50s, sanctioned by law. Thousands of blacks young and old were lynched with no whites paying for the crimes. Thanks to Mamie’s bravery, Emmett’s case changed the course of things. Four months after his murder, when Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she said she was thinking of Emmett Till.

Mamie passed away in 2003 at age 82. In the quote below she’s speaking of the photo of Emmett’s open casket:

“That picture of Emmett shows us
the ugliness of racism
and because the world was able to
see Emmett in that state,
that brought on what we call the
modern Civil Rights Movement.”

—Mamie Till

My good friend Peter de Lissovoy, who was a Freedom Rider in the 60s, wrote this in an email when I told him my plan for this blog:

“Yes I think the Trayvon murder is a watershed, utterly tragic, but it turns out to be extremely light-producing, light-shining . . . on a whole sad world. You are right to compare Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till, in the sense that the horror of [the 50s] seems to me just like a prism through which we see so much human evil. Although those killers at that time were another dimension of crass evil, conscious evil doers like the Nazis. . . . I don’t think Zimmerman is an evil Mississippi klansman hardened to his evil, but somehow the confused and unconscious bearer of an evil social mindset/burden . . . maybe I am being too high minded about all this. . . .”

“Dr. King said the honor and suffering is redemptive
and there’s power in innocent blood.
The innocent blood of Emmett Till exploded
and hit the racial consciousness in ways that were irreversible.”

—Jesse Jackson, from Martin Kent documentary

This tree below grows in our front garden here in northern California, planted years ago in memory of my sister, Betty. It blooms every year around Easter. I leave you with these flowers, to carry in memory of these two beautiful boys and the hordes of others ~ in hopes that someday all humans can find humanity ~