“This is not just an issue for Ferguson,” Obama said at the White House minutes after the grand jury’s decision was announced. “This is an issue for America.” For our family it began on August 28, 1955 when Emmett Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, was murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi by two white men for whistling at a white woman. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. Three days later, Till’s body was discovered and retrieved from the river. Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett’s mother, insisted on a open-casket funeral in Chicago, because she wanted the world to see the face of racism. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted by an all white male jury and later sold their story detailing of how they taught him a lesson for $4000 to Look Magazine.
Mamie Till Mobley called the murder trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam in 1955 a “farce”, and often spoke about how “Mississippi justice was turned upside down, where innocent people were punished and guilty people went free.” The Grand Jury indictment process of Officer Darren Wilson was just that, a farce, as there is a steady beat of judicial injustice that plagues the black community almost sixty years after Emmett Till’s murder, not just in Mississippi, but the entire United States justice system remains upturned as a continuum of “not guilty” verdicts are rendered when white people murder blacks. Officer Darren Wilson joins the ranks with Roy Bryant, J.W. Milam, George Zimmerman and countless other unpunished guilty murderers acquitted for gunning down black youth…black boys.
Last night conversations reminiscent to that Mamie Till Mobley had with her son Emmett Till, in an effort to educate him on the ways of Jim Crow and what was proper versus improper behavior in the South, ensued across the country explaining to black children about racism and the consequences of the color of their skin. It was heartbreaking trying to explain the villainy of yesterday’s verdict to several young boys in our family as they cried uncontrollably, full of anger and consumed by fear of becoming the next Mike Brown or Emmett Till. They continuously asked the question, “how did this happen” when It was obvious to the youngest child what the grand jury chose to ignore. Children today are witnessing the equivalent to what our ancestors children witnessed when blacks were lynched and hung from trees. We must educate our children about black pride, power and PROTECTION to prepare them for a society that deems them dispensable.
One week prior to the grand jury’s verdict Emmett Till’s name rang out in celebration of a tree planted on Capitol Hill in his memory. As our family was not included in the ceremonious celebration, I grappled with how to express my discontentment and not seem ungrateful for the gesture. While it is considerably appreciated, perhaps a tree wasn’t necessarily the most adequate symbol to use as trees don’t represent protection for black people but remind us of lynchings and how we were considered less than human.
Exactly one week later, Emmett Till’s name echoed on Capitol Hill again as protesters chanted “Mike Brown, Emmett Till, how many black dudes will you kill?” In a weeks time the spirit in which you planted the Sycamore Tree was lost in translation of the grand jury’s decision, the spirit of the tree is already chopped down. Perhaps it was placed as a subliminal message to remind black people of their place in this country. A tweet read, “If Emmett Till is the tree, then Mike Brown and all the others are the Strange Fruit that dangle from it.”
Mamie Till Mobley urged people “not to give up on our fight for justice, equal justice, and equal rights” and she came to realize that Emmett Till died for a reason. Just as Mike Brown and countless others have died for greater purpose. We must find purpose in the pain we are feeling as a community. Protests must evolve into productivity to provide historic value to Mike Brown, Jr.’s murder, suffrage of the residents in Ferguson and the entire Black community. Just like Emmett Till, Mike Brown is a “Sacrificial Lamb” and in order to turn the sacrifice of his life into something positive, we must all work together because Black Lives Matter.
Executive Director, Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation