This past week marked the 67th anniversary of Emmett Till’s violent murder. On March 29th President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act classifying lynching as a Federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
The Emmett Till Anti-lynching act is a law that will give prosecuters the opportunity to prosecute a violent act that still takes place to this day. Lynching is usually symbolic of alerting people that they are not welcome in a specific area.
Dr. Fanon Che Wilkins, a professor of African American studies here at PCC explained the significance behind Mamies choice to show the world her son’s mutilated body. “Chicago is the epicenter of black life, black autonomy, black community, and black entrepreneurship. This allowed Chicago to be a real hub for black communication,” he said.
Emmett Till was born on July 25th 1941 in Chicago Illinois. His mother Mamie Carthan Till described her son as a funny, loving, and intelligent boy. During the Summer of 1955 Emmett Till went to Mississippi with his great uncle and cousin to spend time with some of his relatives who resided there. On August 24th Till with his cousins and friends in tow entered the Bryant’s Grocery store in Money, Mississippi.
Although, what exactly happened in the store is constantly disputed, witnesses say that Emmett whistled at the store’s white clerk Carolyn Bryant. Four days later in the middle of the night Emmett was kidnapped from his great uncle’s home by store owner and Carolyn’s Bryant’s husband Roy Bryant and his brother J.W. Milam. They then brutally tortured the teenage boy, shot him in the head before dragging his body to the bank of the Tallahatchie River. After his body was discovered it was sent back to Chicago where his mother Mamie insisted on a public open casket funeral.
“College is intended to be a space where one should be challenged intellectually and that the collective student body can educate students and challenge people who have inherent racial bias,” Brandon House, a 2nd year PCC student studying Film and Television said. “These types of conversations and debates would be important coming from the student body because we’re more likely to listen to information that comes from our peers.”
Mamie’s decision prompted black journalists and photographers to tell this tragic story. This created a public outcry that made Emmett Till a major figure in the civil rights movement. Although Till’s murderers stood trial they were aquited of his murder prompting more backlash. Mamie Till however in her unwavering love and admiration for her only child stood strong. Her story is one of resilience and courage and highlights the power of a black mother’s love.
“In order to help combat racist ideologies on campus, we should motivate people to question things, be curious about the past and expand your capacity to be empathetic and compassionate towards all people. Exploring other cultures and their history can help you find and transform yourself,” Dr. Wilkins said.
In the history department here on campus there’s a sign that reads “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.” Emmett Till’s anniversary is a painful reminder of the racism and violence that still persists in America today.
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