Lives Matter – a Civil Rights Issue

The story of Emmett Till, a young black boy, killed in Mississippi is a symbol of the horrible outcomes of hatred and prejudice. Americans today still struggle with equality and fair treatment of all its citizens. In 1955, the beginning of change came from a mother’s decision to show the world the true reality of hate.

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After the brutal beating of her son, she opened his casket to show the world just what hate was allowed to do. Emmett Till’s mom wanted to shock America into improving civil rights with relations, but her quest has not been fulfilled because of recent events.

Mamie Till had one child, a son, his name was Emmett. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 25, 1941. Emmett grew up the child of a single mother because his father Louis had died before he ever met him. Emmett’s father was a soldier in World War II and was executed for willful misconduct. After his execution, Louis’ ring with initials and a date, May 1943 were engraved in it. That ring was saved to give to her son. Mamie then remarried twice, one to an army buddy of Louis and then to Lemorse Mallory and shortly after Emmett began kindergarten at Argo School across the street from his house. The Parker family lived nearby and in that family was soon to be his best friend, Wheeler Jr. He was two years older than Emmett. He had never lived in a big city like Chicago. Both boys lived in a part of Chicago that had many businesses that were owned by blacks. Even though segregation was still enforced, this part of Chicago was a well to do area for African Americans. When Emmett was five years old he came down with polio, an infectious disease, which left him with a slight stutter. Even with all this in his life, he was a happy chubby child. His friends described him as a prankster and a joker. He loved to hear and tell jokes to people. Just like any other kid during that time he enjoyed the new sound of rock and roll. HIs friends would come over his house and they would imitate the latest bands; The Coasters and The Flamingos. The summer before eighth grade Emmett left his friends and family for the last time to travel down south. He had been there once before. Emmett would never return to Chicago, he would soon be killed during the visit to Mississippi on August 28, 1955. (Cite….)

Mamie was planning a trip to Omaha, Nebraska. She had planned to teach Emmett how to drive. She thought that he would love that and it would entice him to go on her planned trip would together but instead Emmett begged to go with his great uncle, Moses Wright, who had been up for a family reunion and was returning to Mississippi. He was going to take Emmett’s cousin Wheeler Parker back to Mississippi to visit relatives. Emmett wanted to go with his cousin and be with all his family in the south. Mamie finally agreed to let him go and before they left each other she gave him the ring that was sent back from Italy, the one that belonged to his father Louis. (citation) Emmett arrived in Mississippi and enjoyed visiting with his cousins. On August 24, he would learn just how harsh the south was. He and his cousins and some friends went down to a country store in town. Emmett being one to make jokes and pranks bragged that he had a girlfriend back home who was white. None of the boys with him believed him so they dared him to ask a woman who was white that was sitting at the counter for a date. Emmett went in the store to buy some candy and was alleged to have been heard saying “Bye, Baby” to the woman at the counter. No one was there to verify if it was true or false. A few days later this woman’s husband, Roy Bryant, heard about what happened. He and his brother in law found Emmett at Moses cabin and found Emmett. Emmett’s uncle tried to explain he was a boy and did not know the ways of the south. The men did not care, they dragged him outside and put him in their car and drove away. They beat him and shot him in the head and threw him into the Tallahatchie River. Later, when the police found Emmett’s body, that same woman would testify that Emmett grabbed her and whistled at her as he left the store trying to make it just that he was later beaten and killed. cite

Emmett had been born in an area that surely had segregation and prejudice but he never knew the harsh realities of the south. African Americans were held to the Jim Crow laws in the south. “During the Jim Crow era which lasted from the late 1800’s to 1960’s African Americans in the south were expected to follow strict rules of behavior that demonstrated respect and submission toward whites” (Hillstrom 167). Violence was rising due to the Brown Vs. Board of Education ruling. In 1955 ,activists were killed for helping African Americans to register to vote. Other incidents of violence were done by as white racists created fear to keep segregation in place. It can be thought that the murder of Emmett Till was a part of the violence to keep the African Americans in their place, away and segregated. It would go down in history as one of the most infamous acts of violence during these times. (citation)

The trial occurred less than two weeks after the burial of Emmett. Roy Bryant, the women’s husband and J. W. Milam his half-brother, went on trial for the death of Till in a courthouse that was segregated in Summer, Mississippi. The jury was made up of all whites. The few witness were unhelpful, except for Moses Wright, who positively identified these men as his great nephew’s killers. On September 23, the jury deliberated for less than an hour before putting forth a verdict of “not guilty”. They stated that the state did not prove who the body really was. Many people from all over were outraged that Mississippi made this decision. These men were not even indicted on the lower charge of kidnapping. (cite)

Emmett Till’s mother chose to have an open casket funeral. She allowed magazines such as Jet and television stations take pictures. These pictures showed the mutilated face of her son. This made the brutality of his killing real. No one could look at this and not feel anger. “In situations of this violence a time usually comes when one additional act is enough to tip the scales. From the reports of the memorial service for young Till in Chicago, it seems clear that the Negro community there is aroused as it has not been over any similar act in recent history” (Rubin 49) .The coverage of this horrible event was written about in Time, Life, The Nation and Newsweek, The Catholic Journal, and The Commonwealth. They tried to educate Americans about the real moral problem that would destroy a nation. This problem was the deep seeded racism that took place in Mississippi with the killing of Emmett Till. (cite)

In some ways Emmett Till’s funeral successfully sparked the Civil Rights Movement. The decision to bring the story of Emmett Till’s murder forward to all Americans forced the nation to look at the real effects of racism. The community found it was hard to deny the immorality of the prejudice behind the act of killing a 14 year old boy. The failure of his story is that still in our nation young black men are killed for simply being black. In 2012, Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old black teenager, was killed by a gunshot wound as he walked through The Retreat at Twin Lakes. He was there visiting his father’s fiancée. He went out to a nearby store to buy candy and a drink. He was confronted by a man named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman saw Trayvon walking and thought he looked “suspicious”. A call was made to the police but before they came George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin had an altercation which resulted in Trayvon dying and George Zimmerman claiming it was all in self-defense. A CBS news reporter , Trymaine Lee, wrote a story “Analysis: Trayvon Martin’s Death Still Fuels A Movement Five Years Later”. In this report he wrote “Much like 12-year-old Emmett Till’s murder by a pair of white men 60 years earlier, Trayvon Martin’s death sparked a new era of protest for black life in America. From the death of Trayvon Martin #Black Lives Matter movement was begun” (Lee). It was once again a way to rally citizens in America around civil rights that were once again being violated. But still the senseless killings did not stop, In July 2016 another man would die senselessly. Philando Castile from Minnesota was stopped by a police officer who thought he “looked” like someone that was a part of a robbery nearby. When he was stopped he tried to tell the officer that he had a firearm on him and had a permit to carry a gun. When he reached to get the permit the officer shot him in front of his girlfriend and four year old daughter. Another life ended. President Obama was quoted in a New York Times article saying “ When incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our citizenry that feels as if, because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same, and that hurts, and that should trouble all of us. This is not just a black issue, not just a hispanic issue. This is an american issue that we should all care about.”

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