Wednesday, June 01, 2005

That There May Never Be Another Case Like Emmett's

Life at Work
The ground in Burr Oak Cemetery is being turned near the headstone of Emmett Till today. The FBI is exhuming his body while his family looks on in order to dispel rumors that the body in that grave might not be the body of the thirteen year old killed in Money, Mississippi in August 1955.

Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged with murdering Emmett, but were acquitted by an all white jury. I wonder if they experienced even a moment of imprisonment by guilt for killing that young boy. They are dead now, but before they died, they confessed to abducting, beating, and shooting Emmett because he whistled at Bryant’s wife.

Emmett’s home was in Chicago. He was visiting his family that summer in the Mississippi Delta community where he died. He was found in the Tallahatchie River three days after he was abducted from his uncle’s home and killed. His body had been held under the surface of the waters by the weight of the seventy pound gin fan that was tied to him. A strand of barbed-wire had been wrapped around his neck and tied to the fan to keep him under the water.

They will find that the body they found and buried thirty years ago is Emmett, I’m confident. A momma knows her son, and Emmett’s mom had the casket open during the funeral to expose the violence of the crime against her son – and against humanity. I hope they will find some evidence that will link someone else to the murder, if in fact anyone else participated, or knew about it and said nothing. And if that someone is alive, I hope they will be charged, found guilty, and live the rest of their lives in prison.

I was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in March of 1966 - eleven years after the brutal hate crime against Emmett Till. I lived in Mississippi for twenty-three years. I can say without a moment of hesitation that the hatred that was prevalent among some my fellow Mississippians in the fifties and sixties did not infiltrate my heart in the least.

From the days of my earliest memories in elementary school, to my experiences in Mississippi churches where we were members or frequently visited, and to my high school experience, I encountered many people of various races. While we were obviously different – we looked different, we talked different, and we worshipped different – we were all God’s children, and I knew that.

There are a number of reasons why I could love anybody – even those of different races – in a state where hatred was at an epidemic level. No doubt, the impact of the civil rights movement in the late fifties and early sixties, exposed race hatred for the horrible thing it is. I believe, though, that what made me appreciate people of all skin colors was the influence of my parents who appreciated people of all skin colors. You see, if my parents had been racists, the likelihood is that I would have been one, too, until I developed enough maturity and/or saw the idiocy of racism to bring about change in me. Since, however, my parents were equal opportunity lovers, I learned it from them.

One of the most powerful things you can do to stop racism is to model respect for all people to your children. If you haven’t been doing that, another Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam are a generation away. If you have been modeling respect for all people, your children have seen the reflection of God in your life. That’s Life at Work!

1 comment:

JD said...

Fantastic post, Rich. As you know, I spent some time in the Mississippi Delta. I knew J. W.'s half-brother, who was a Christian and a very gentle sweet man. Also I know an elderly gentleman who lived in the Delta in those days and knew the Bryants. He will tell you today that they were the meanest people he ever knew. So, even though I didn't know about Emmett Till, I have been connected to some people who knew those involved. It's quite a memory ... a dark and awful one. What memories are being created today that will haunt the next generation? Excellent thoughts.