Events Mark Emmett Till Slaying 60 Years Later

27 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Call For Expansion of Emmett Till Act.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Sixty years after a black Chicago teenager was killed for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, relatives and civil rights activists are holding church services and a movie screening to remember Emmett Till. Kansas City Human Rights Activist Alvin Sykes, along with the late Mamie Till Mobley co-founded the Emmett Till Justice Campaign (ETJC) of which he is President will attend the 60th Anniversary Commemorative Celebration of the Legacy of Emmett Till (1955-2015) this weekend, August 28 – 30 in Chicago, Illinois as the special guest of the Mamie Till Mobley Foundation.Since 2007, city officials and local residents of Sumner, Miss., have worked together to reconcile a town that, 60 years ago, was the backdrop for an event that was a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement. The county sheriff had brought the ring by their house to confirm Mose’s nephew’s identity on Sept. 1, 1955, the day after Emmett Till’s body was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River.

It’s a message that Deborah Watts, a distant cousin of Till’s, sees as relevant amid the killings in recent years of unarmed young black men such as Trayvon Martin in Florida and Tamir Rice in Ohio. Sykes, who served from 2002 as Mamie Till Mobley’s official victim’s advocate to law enforcement agencies involved in her son’s unsolved murder case, is scheduled participate as a panelist for the YOUth EmPOWERment Day sessions held at the Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts.

Till’s face was so badly beaten and decomposed from the water that it was difficult to identify him at first, but the ring confirmed what Mose had said the day before standing over the body: it was Emmett Till. Rush (D-Ill), Wheeler Parker (Emmett’s cousin who was with him the night he died), author Christopher Benson, and filmmaker Raymond Thomas, among others. Benson, who co-authored the book, “The Death of Innocence – The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America” with Till’s mother, stated, “Alvin connected with Mrs. Mobley the last week of her life and in that short experience has been able to continue to keep her story alive, and has inspired a strong, positive social policy.” As part of his presentation, Sykes will discuss plans for the drafting and introduction of legislation for a proposed newly named “Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights and Federal Crimes Act (“Till Bill 2”) to become a permanent law with no sunset provision. Weems transferred to the University of Mississippi a couple of weeks before Hurricane Katrina and says that he was shocked at the divided nature of the university.

He created a group called Respect Mississippi to start conversations about why divisions exist in culture, such as separate fraternities for different races, and other social issues such as racism and segregation. From there, he began working as a youth organizer for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and developed the Summer Youth Institute, which is a two-week learning experience where participants do a civil-rights pilgrimage and then go home and do community projects. Weems says he chose southern studies because it helped him with his identity, as well as to apply historical context. “Southern culture affects us all, and unless we understand that history, we’re not going to understand ourselves,” he says. “Just really getting deep into why religion is so important in the South, how politics have been shaped in the South, how race relations have been created and understanding the system.” The center seeks to use artwork as a tool to reach generations. Wheeler went into Bryant’s Store to buy something, and Emmett followed him, Simeon says now, but once Wheeler left, Emmett was alone with the owner’s wife, Carolyn Bryant, for a minute before Maurice sent Simeon in to get him.

What happened between the boy and the 21-year-old woman for the brief time they were alone is unknown now to anyone but her, but that time period was short, only a minute or so Simeon says. The small Emmett Till Interpretive Center opened across the street from the courthouse, and it has attracted school and church groups from across the country. “We get to understand that race and racism are not something unique to the Mississippi Delta,” Weems said. “It’s an issue that faces the entire nation.”

He was most recently named a Scholar in Residence at the Kansas City Public Library, where he has spent countless hours in public libraries reading and researching. Large panels explaining Till’s story that focus on the trial in Sumner cover the center’s walls, and staff or interns give tours that begin with a sentence-by-sentence reading of the 2007 apology. He has re-opened two civil rights cold cases, one the high-profile murder of Chicago teenager Emmett Till, and the 1980 murder of Kansas City musician Steve Harvey. This winter, Weems says the center plans to host a photography workshop, a week-long program dedicated to telling positive stories of the movement and community’s legacy, for the internship.

The center will partner with Barefoot Workshops on the projects, an organization that aids in creating citizen-produced media for education and advocacy purposes. -Provide Justice Grants to governmental and non-governmental organizations, private investigative agencies, educational institutions,documentary filmmakers, investigative reporters, etc. that will help in investigations and raise public awareness and support through media outlets, social media, and public event activities to find potential cases, evidence and witnesses. – Continue authorization for federal Inspector Generals to provide assistance to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with their backlog of unsolved cases. Weems hopes that by using participants from inside the community, the center can offer a new perspective on Emmett Till. “Reconciliation begins by telling the truth, and that’s a big piece of the mission of the Interpretive Center—how do we tell the truth, and how do we tell it honestly?” he asks. The woman, who is still alive and living in another state, did change her story years later, Simeon Wright says, admitting she over-dramatized her account of what happened. Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket, and images of his mutilated body were published in black-oriented magazines and newspapers, rallying popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S.

Although initially local newspapers and law enforcement officials decried the violence against Till and called for justice. they soon began responding to national criticism by defending Mississippians, which eventually transformed into support for the killers. Simeon did not go out to the porch that night, but he remembers his father saying a man was on the porch, likely the black man who showed Bryant and Milam where Mose lived. Milam’s half-brother, Leslie Milam, managed the plantation, and he along with others were present that evening and likely participated in the beating and torturing of Till, Beauchamp says. This photo and Mamie’s decision to have an open casket for her son’s memorial were the publicity needed to fuel national outrage, protests and movements in the coming months. The state prosecuted the two men, calling Mamie down from Chicago as a key witness in the trial to counter a false rumor out that the body wasn’t Till’s. “There he is,” he said, extending his arm fully pointing at Milam across the courtroom, a black-to-white gesture that was unheard of in the Jim Crow South.

By 2002, she had retired, but Benson was able to learn most of her story in long sit-down interviews, sometimes reading chapters back to her because her eyesight was failing. A year after they were acquitted and protected from double jeopardy—the law that protects a person from being tried again on the same charges—Bryant and Milam sold their story to Look magazine for a 1956 article.

Beauchamp found 14 people involved with Till’s murder, including two black men thrown in jail during the 1955 trial so that they wouldn’t be able to testify. Beauchamp and Alvin Sykes, a civil rights lawyer, worked with FBI investigators and, by 2006, the FBI delivered their report to Joyce Chiles, the attorney over the Fourth Judicial District in Mississippi. There had also been a warrant out for Carolyn’s arrest back in 1955 because witnesses said then she was involved with the kidnapping, but she never served time.

The nicknamed “Till Bill” expires in 2017, and Beauchamp says he hopes that “Till Bill 2” will become a reality in the future, with no cutoff or end date to investigate cases. Many people felt that Till’s case was dropped in their laps, because the crimes did not occur in their county; most of the crimes were committed in Sunflower and LeFlore Counties. Sumner is home to about 300 people with a fairly even divide between the black and white community; 51 percent of the population is white; 47 percent African American.

Wiley’s investment in Till’s legacy became personal a few years ago when he found out that he is related to the Wrights through his mother’s side of the family. “Two years ago, my grandma went to a funeral in Chicago with my family members and found we were related to Emmett Till,” he says. His niece is a year old. “By the time she gets to be 18 or so, they’ll be talking about Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown, and Emmett Till might not exist,” he says. “The people around Till’s age right now dying? Benson says the crumbling of a “separate but equal” legal standard turned the South into a frightening place to live for the African American community, especially those who wanted to challenge the status quo. If so, he says, history can help inform what’s happening now to young African Americans in the country. “If we can see ethno-violence and hate crimes in that context, that it’s about forcing a power hierarchy and keeping people in their place, then we can see the similarities between then and now,” Benson says. Regardless of conservative or progressive views, time or perspective, Anderson doesn’t think even conservatives today would say that Emmett Till had it coming.

Wheeler Parker stayed in Argo-Summit, Ill., outside Chicago and is now the pastor of the Argo Temple Church of God there, the same church Emmett’s mother attended before her death. Parker is thankful for the progress African Americans have made in the past 60 years because coming out of slavery, he says, it’s still difficult to get recognition as first-class citizens.

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