A middle-aged African American woman steps up to a microphone in Mississippi in 1955. She says, “The whole trial was a farce.” The reporters gather around her, outside the Mississippi courthouse, crowding her, seeking more of her opinion. Was the brave woman and mother of Emmett Till surprised?
“I heard the sentence that I expected.”
The woman was Mamie Till Mobley. Her sad, utterly resigned comments came moments after the trial of two men found innocent in the murder of her 14 year-old son, Emmett Till. Why did Emmett matter?
An African American teen from Chicago is visiting relatives in Mississippi when he makes a fatal mistake. By whistling at a white woman in a grocery store, Emmett Till breaks the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South. Three days later, two white men drag him from his bed and brutally murder him.
I’m watching PBS tonight; the documentary is “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement.” (The excerpt above is from the documentary’s website.) Eyes on the Prize‘ historical footage, often black-and-white, often grainy, with antiquated recordings, remains as relevant and timely in 2010 as it was only decades ago. I’m riveted by these long-forgotten interviews and b-roll of legendary civil rights leaders like Mose Wright and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the 50’s and 60’s, there were more than 500 lynchings in Missisippi alone. Emmett Till was only one of the innocent men lynched. It’s important to remember Till–not only because of his horrific death and the ugly racism it symbolized, but because his death was the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
Like me, you may recognize the name of Emmett Till. But how many of us remember the unjust circumstances of his death?