Favorite

Emmett Till's lesson 

The unanimous decision of the U. S. Supreme Court 50 years ago that separate schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional did not at first raise the consciousness of the generation of white Southern children who were just coming of age. Discrimination was just a word and not many knew of its rawer and common aspects, which took the form of humiliation, brutality and even murder. Having no interest though living in its midst, we had familiarity but little knowledge. In a few months, Emmett Till would change that. Till, a 14-year-old Chicago lad who was visiting his great aunt and uncle in a sharecropper cabin near Money, Miss., had the effrontery to whistle at a white woman on a dare from other children. For that, he was taken from the cabin in the night, bound in barbed wire, tortured and shot. His horribly mutilated body, tethered to a 75-pound cotton-gin fan, was thrown in the Tallahatchie River. While the country was marking the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education the Justice Department last week said it was reopening the investigation of Till's kidnapping and murder, which went unpunished in Mississippi. Not that there was ever any doubt about who killed him. J. W. Milam and his brother-in-law Roy Bryant bragged about it and were local heroes. There is the question of what the government can possibly hope to achieve since Milam and Bryant are dead and there seems to be no adequate way to administer justice in such a case. Our annals are full of such unrequited crimes against blacks, including the massacre 85 years ago of hundreds of men, women and children in Phillips County, Ark., whose only offense was being black and defenseless. But the country might be in a mood to pay attention, even if it cannot exact justice. This is a thin substitute but worthwhile. Good citizens, apparently from President Bush on down if you trust his words, are wondering how genuine Americans could humiliate, torture and murder Muslims who had fallen into U.S. custody. We are assured officially that only a handful of low-ranking soldiers did it, unbeknownst to higher-ups, although the inhumanity seems to have been common and to have followed directives from the top. Even the self-analysis is not universal. The instant surveys show that many think that it was not so bad, that we had good reason and that, anyway, it was traitorous to reveal it, especially to show pictures. What a generation learned first from Emmett Till, a boy so obscure that his murderers didn't even bother to learn his name, is that you can dehumanize a class of people, whether it be by race, religion or sexual proclivity, so that human rights do not settle on them. We can bear to sit for that lesson again. Emmett Till ignited the civil rights movement and for that we owe a sharecropper named Mose Wright, whose name never appears in the pantheon of civil rights heroes. When Milam and Bryant showed up at his cabin and hustled his nephew away, Wright put his hysterical wife on the bus for Chicago and went into town to tell the sheriff what had happened. They found Till's battered body and shipped it to Chicago, where his mother insisted on an open coffin for the funeral so that the world could see what had been done to her boy. John Henry Johnson, a slave descendant who grew up across the Mississippi River at Arkansas City, Ark., ran the gruesome picture in his new magazine Jet and started a firestorm. No four-star general called to advise him to hold off for the good of the country. Owing to Mose Wright, they had to arrest Milam and Bryant and the country was treated to the spectacle of the state of Mississippi for the first time trying white men for the murder of a black. The AP gave us an antiseptic account of the trial. A young Arkansan could go to his college library and read a better one from Murray Kempton, the finest columnist who ever lived, in the pages of the New York Post. Kempton's unforgettable lede: "Mose Wright, making a formation no white man in his county really believed he would dare to make, stood on his tiptoes to the full limit of his 64 years and his 5 feet 3 inches yesterday, pointed his black, workworn finger straight at the huge and stormy head of J. W. Milam and swore that this was the man who dragged 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till out of his cottonfield cabin the night the boy was murdered. "'There he is,' said Mose Wright. He was a black pigmy standing up to a white ox. J. W. Milam leaned forward, crooking a cigarette in a hand that seemed as large as Mose Wright's whole chest, and his eyes were coals of hatred." "Mose Wright took all their blast straight in his face, and then, for good measure, turned and pointed that still unshaking finger at Roy Bryant, the man he says joined Milam on the night-ride to seize young Till for the crime of whistling suggestively at Bryant's wife . . .'And there he is, Mr. Bryant.' " An all-white jury happily acquitted them and Milam shortly gave an interview in which he said they killed the boy to send a message. Even the sterile accounts etched in our collective consciousness what had been done in our name. We seem never to have advanced so far that we cannot profit from such reminders.
Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Trusting

    It is a Fourth of July ritual to appraise where we are in meeting the Declaration of Independence's promise to institute a government that would, unlike King George, secure human rights equally for everyone who sets foot on American soil.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Ethics upended

    Every week, Donald Trump finds another way to upend conventional ethics in government and politics. Here's one that has been in the making since the campaign but is reaching maturity in the Russian investigation: He is turning the heroes of government scandals into the villains.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
    • Aug 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated itsĀ 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • The ACA can be fixed

    Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened his 51 disciples in the Senate and his party with the gravest injury imaginable.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Trusting

    It is a Fourth of July ritual to appraise where we are in meeting the Declaration of Independence's promise to institute a government that would, unlike King George, secure human rights equally for everyone who sets foot on American soil.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Another Jesus

    • IBS, were you there in Benghazi to personally witness all of Hillary's blunders like you…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • If God felt it necessary to replace the ten commandments, he could do it like…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Football for UA Little Rock

    • He's BSC. Students and tuition-paying parents should be VERY vocal that a football program won't…

    • on July 23, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation