Emmett Till’s family marks 60th anniversary of his death

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

60 Years After Emmett Till’s Murder, Black Lives Still Matter.

The legacy of the lynching of thousands of black people in America was recalled when the death 60 years ago in Mississippi of just one — Emmett Till — was commemorated Friday at his gravesite in a suburban Chicago cemetery. In 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till traveled from his home in Chicago to stay with a great-uncle in Tallahatchie County, Miss., his mother was nervous. Relatives and civil rights activists gathered in Burr Oak Cemetery, south of Chicago, to listen to speeches and songs, and comfort one another with hugs. – The State of Mississippi failed today in its effort to punish two white men for the brutal “wolf whistle” murder of a 14-year-old [African American] boy.

While the parallels between Till’s murder on August 28, 1955, and the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, are not direct, the similarities are nonetheless undeniable. Another cousin, Wheeler Parker, was with Till when white men broke into the home where Till was staying with his family, and took him away in the middle of the night to lynch him. Both events galvanized a black community that had been unheard and spawned movements around what many saw as particularly egregious racial incidents. “It’s not exactly like Jim Crow, but when you have confessed murderers go free, a sham of a legal process and people not being held accountable … When we reflect back, we’re seeing things that are very similar,” said Deborah Watts, a cousin of Till’s and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. “Black lives do matter. The 14-year-old Till was visiting relatives in the cotton country of the Mississippi Delta on Aug. 24, 1955, when witnesses said he violated the Jim Crow social code by whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman working behind the counter of a store in the tiny town of Money.

Milam, 36, a contract cotton picker, and his half brother, Roy Bryant, 24, a grocer, not guilty of the murder of Emmett Louis Till, of Chicago, after deliberating an hour and three minutes at the conclusion of a five-day trial. Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, who had grown up in the rural county (a “snake-infested swamp,” as TIME described it that year), warned him of the risks. Milam – were acquitted by an all-white jury, but later – under protection from double jeopardy – bragged to Look magazine that they had indeed killed Till. “Hopefully, this will stir someone to find the ability to do something about the community, and about things in America that need to be changed,” he said. Emmett’s death … helped to wake up America.” Till’s death is seen by many as a major catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, and Brown’s is largely regarded as the beginning of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The defendants, seated next to the railing in the well of the court, promptly grasped their attractive dark-haired wives and put on a public petting party by way of celebration.

Participants in the weekend commemoration of Till’s death will include the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida, in 2012; and Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen killed by white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last year. Barbed wire was wrapped around his neck and he was weighted down with a cotton gin fan. “I thought we would all die,” he said. “I’ve never been that afraid before in my life. In 1955, thousands of blacks were shocked and sickened to see Till’s bloated, disfigured corpse on the pages of Jet Magazine and at his open casket funeral. “The center of gravity was Emmett Till,” said comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who was 23 when Till was killed. “It was a different type of story.

So you relive that, and wonder what could you have done?” Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in Chicago, and Jet magazine published photos of his corpse. Everybody’s got an Emmett Till story.” Similarly, African-Americans grew enraged as the image of 18-year-old Brown’s body lay on the concrete — in plain view of the residents of a surrounding apartment complex for more than four hours — spread across social media. Louis who has been an active protester in Ferguson for the past year, said that while she learned about Till’s story as a child, she didn’t connect it to the larger picture of black liberation until it was in her front yard. “I didn’t contextualize it to Ferguson,” said Reed, 25. “I’m sure there was someone my age who was radicalized through that moment, when they saw his body in that open casket. But Milam and Bryant could easily be out of jail tomorrow, because in this state bond may be granted in kidnaping cases upon submission of an affidavit to a justice of the peace. It was being able to understand how these moments exist, where it takes a tragedy to light a fire under a community.” Indeed Till was on the minds of many last August: in the days after Brown’s death and his Aug. 25 funeral, some of Till’s relatives attended the services in solidarity.

Jury Foreman Shaw said the big factor in the acquittal was that the state failed to prove identification of young Till’s body beyond a reasonable doubt. As long as I live and can do anything about it, [n—–s] are gonna stay in their place.” Because Milam and his accomplice had already been tried once for Till’s murder, the public confession did not yield more charges. In the Till murder, it was the Black Press that relentlessly covered the murder and trial in an attempt to fully expose the horrors of the segregated South.

As the Los Angeles Times later put it: “If Rosa Parks showed the potential of defiance, [some historians] say, Emmett Till’s death warned of a bleak future without it.” Sixty years later, at a time when race relations are once more at the front of the American mind, Till’s name is still invoked as a reminder of the worst consequences of ignoring the problem. Whitten Jr., one of the five defense lawyers, urged the jurors to consider a theory that “outside agitators” had spirited away the Till boy and planted another body in the river in hopes of stirring up a celebrated “race relations” trial in Mississippi. In Mississippi, civil rights reporter Simeon Booker — who covered the Till case for national black newsmagazine Jet in 1955 — recalled life in the Deep South for African-Americans as completely foreign to lifelong Northerners like him. “It was like you were going to another country, where you didn’t speak the language,” he said. “I’d heard about the South, but I didn’t know what it meant until I confronted it.” Likewise, the stories of hundreds African-Americans living in and around Ferguson in the wake of Brown’s murder — covered by the news media and later referenced in the Department of Justice’s report on the city’s predatory police department and court system — also described lives that were unrecognizable to much of the country. Jay Z and Will Smith recently announced that they are collaborating on an HBO miniseries about him; Whoopie Goldberg is working on a film called Till, scheduled to begin production next year; and two more films are in the works, based on the book Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America and the play The Face of Emmett Till, respectively. The speech obviously had its appeal here, for tension has been marked throughout the five days of the trial, with outsiders getting cold stares as they filed in and out of the courtroom.

Despite the intense media coverage and overwhelming calls for Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson to be prosecuted, a grand jury in November declined to find him criminally responsible for killing Brown. Also all but ignored in the deliberations, Shaw said, was the testimony of Willie Reed, 18-year-old [African American] ninth-grader, who swore he saw Till in a car driven by white men at a farm owned by Milam’s brother, Leslie, outside Drew, in nearby Sunflower County, several hours after J. The verdict of acquittal had been generally expected here, although the prosecution proved unexpectedly vigorous when the state turned up two surprise witnesses to link Milam with young Till on the morning of the kidnaping. Smith 3d, went all out to get a guilty verdict although they did not specifically ask for death in the gas chamber, which the murder statute provides.

In the courtroom there seemed to be fewer [African Americans] and most of the [African American] photographers who had been making pictures side by side with white photographers, were conspicuously missing. Their exodus was obviously welcomed by the local whites, some of whom had shown signs during the week of resenting having cameras pointed in their direction by [African Americans]. No one connected with the trial would forecast what will be the pattern of developments in Leflore County when and if the grand jury votes a kidnaping indictment to replace the one dismissed here today by Judge Swango. But Sheriff Smith of LeFlore and his deputy, John Edd Cothran, both testified at the murder trial that Bryant and Milam had made statements orally admitting their individual responsibility for kidnaping the boy.

When Judge Swango gave the case to the jury he instructed that it could hand up a death sentence by finding the defendants “guilty as charged.” This instruction was given the jury at the suggestion of the prosecutors. Prosecutors say Sharpe, 24, was intoxicated and driving at speeds over 100 mph on July 12 before his vehicle slammed into the rear of a car carrying a family of four. Sharpe and several friends ignored the pleas for help from the lone survivor, Lucnie Bouaz-Ostane, as her husband, Ancio Ostane, and their children, 8-year-old Andy and 4-year-old Sephora, were consumed by flames, the prosecutor said. “At the time when dying people needed help the most, the defendants, some of them, literally stood by watching the Ostane family — children and dad — perish,” Spota said. Sharpe’s attorney, Jonathan Manley, disputed allegations that his client refused to help the family, and also denied the prosecutor’s claims that his client was intoxicated.

Spota said Sharpe had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.06 percent, which is below the legal definition of 0.08 percent required for a driving-while-intoxicated charge.

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