Friend and fellow writer Chuck Pizar offers this comment on “A look of agony,” the latest essay in my series titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death.”
“Maybe we need to look death straight in the eye.” That is exactly what Emmett Till’s mother thought. More precisely, she wanted the country to look hate-fueled murder in the eye when she had her teenage son’s body tour the country in the state his murderers left it in.
Who was Emmett Till? What is Chuck referring to when he talks about how Emmett’s mother’s decision to let the world see what had been done to his son?
The murder of Emmett Till and his mother’s decision to let the world see what hateful bigots had done to her son galvanized the civil-rights movement.
Here’s a link to Bob Dylan singing his early protest song “The Ballad of Emmett Till”
And here’s a good synopsis of Emmett Till’s story (a summary of the “American Experience” documentary about the pivotal episode in the civil rights movement):
Two days after Till’s death, Carolyn Bryant’s husband and another white man were arrested and charged with his murder. During the trial the following month, the courthouse became a microcosm of race relations: black observers packed into the segregated balcony seats as the defendants’ families joked openly with prosecutors and jurors on the floor below. The courtroom took on a carnival atmosphere as snacks and soft drinks were distributed to white observers. Outside, the international press jockeyed for photographs and interviews that captured the ways of the American South.
Till’s uncle identified the assailants in court — the first time a black person had testified against a white in Mississippi, and perhaps in the South. He was forced to leave town. After a five-day trial that made an open mockery of the possibility of justice, the defendants were acquitted. The Bryants celebrated, on camera, with a smile and an embrace.
The federal government’s failure to intercede in the Till case led blacks and whites to realize that if change were to come, they would have to do it themselves. The murder of Emmett Till was a watershed in the development of the nascent movement for civil rights. Some historians describe it as the real spark that ignited broad-based support for the movement.
Three months and three days after Emmett Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.