60 years ago today - The killing of Emmett Till on August 28, 1955

Sometimes you read a story that shakes you. One might read the story below and think, "look how barbaric our history was." What strikes me most about the story are the parallels to our modern day. Not only was this not that long ago, the actions and arguments now concerning racism and oppression are not far from what these were.

HERE is the story written then. (Warning: there is racist language throughout, not only from the testimony of the perpetrators, but the journalist as well).

Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy from Chicago visiting his family in Mississippi during 1955. He made a mistake about romantically approaching a married white woman that, a few days later, would cost him his life. (Note: the events of what happened in the store are disputed by different witnesses).

The husband of the offended and harassed woman (Roy) and his brother-in-law (Milam) went and found the boy sleeping. They took him to a shed and beat him with pistols. Emmett bravely asserted his own humanity, exclaiming "I'm as good as you are."

The brother-in-law later confessed [warning: extremely racist language and ideas], "Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers -- in their place -- I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live. If they did, they'd control the government. They ain't gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. 'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you -- just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'"

They tied a large fan around the boys neck with barbed-wire, shot him, which caused him to fall in the river.

They were found "not guilty" on insufficient evidence. They confessed after the trial knowing they wouldn't be retried - not least because most people in the area agreed with them.

Till's mother had an open casket and pictures taken by the media to expose the cruelty done to her 14 year old son. This helped spark the Civil Rights movement.

And if that isn't just profoundly sad enough, I decided to the read the letters to editor about the published article, which read like a modern day comments section. HERE it is, but if you read it, do so with an eye to arguments you hear people make about the killing of unarmed black folks now. Do so in light of the comments people make about immigrants. The respectability politics that are present in both. The justification of death over crimes and actions that don't actually warrant death sentences. The way white society tries to sweep these "unfortunate events" under the carpet because we don't want to see what we believe to be the justified dirty work of keeping people in check - "in their place."

Jesus, help us. forgive us. help us to die to ourselves and all those false identities we use to prop up our identity. Help us to be reconciled to one another as we are reconciled to you (Ephesians 2). That we can become ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5) in your name, for your cause, to the people, for our own salvation and healing. Let us not read this and things like these and justify ourselves before them as though they are different than us. Help us realize they are us. We, too, have the capacity for the greatest of evil, each and everyone of us, but you have made us out of your divine image to follow after you for ultimate good.
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Resources
- Zinn Education Project
- Wikipedia
- Original article referred to above
- CBS 60 Minutes

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