by Taki S. Raton
Scheduled observances last weekend marked the anniversary of the Emmett Louis Till murder 55 years ago.
The then 14-year-old was brutally killed August 28, 1955 while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi.
Themed “EMMETT TILL – A Time of Reflection and Remembrance,” a Red Carpet and VIP Reception was held Friday, August 27 at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.
Sponsored by The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, the evening featured “Music for Emmett” with highlights of a silent auction and comments from area community and civic leaders.
Sponsored by the Business and Economic Revitalization Association (BEAR), A “Hands Across Emmett Till Road” and Balloon Launch began 1 p.m. Saturday, August 28 as the ceremonial start of a “Silent March” starting at Greater Salem Baptist Church on 71st and Wentworth on Chicago’s South Side.
That evening at 7 p.m., the play “Mamie’s Angels” commemorating the memory of Emmett’s mother Mamie Till Mobley was staged at Operation PUSH. A Wreath Laying Ceremony on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 was held at Mamie Till and son Emmett’s gravesite at Burr Oak Cemetery.
In his August 27 Chicago Tribune article “Weekend observances around Chicago commemorates flashpoint in civil rights movement,” writer Donald Liebenson notes that for decades, the Emmett Till story has be defined by “justice denied and justice delayed.”
Speaking to this emerging rebirth by The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, he adds that there is “now an effort to mark a new and more hopeful chapter in the story of the Chicago teen whose savage killing galvanized the civil rights movement.”
Deborah Watts, co-founder and president of the Emmett foundation as quoted by Liebenson shares that “We want to make sure people understand what hate looks like, and Emmett’s story includes all of that. But where do we go from here? We want to flip the script on injustice and move forward.”
In a telephone interview, Alicia Spears of BEAR shares that “In conjunction with the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, “Hands Across Emmett Till Memorial Bridge” is yet another support initiative designed to encourage us to remember the Emmett Till atrocity 55 years ago by turning fear and anger into knowledge, faith, and determination. It also serves as an excellent opportunity to re-ignite the flame of hope, leading us to new ideas that produce positive outcomes, as we put vision into action.”
Milwaukee’s contribution to the Till legacy recalls the exhibit “Emmett Till – For Our Children of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” which opened August 26, 2006 at the African American Women’s Center, 3020 West Vliet Street commemorating the then 51st year observance of his death.
Sponsored by Blyden Delany Academy, an African Centered school serving elementary students in levels K4 through 8th grade, the two-week installation visualizing the life of young Till and the circumstances surrounding his killing was a student driven project with research and hands on installation design assistance by 5th through 8th grade Blyden students.
The exhibit culminated five months of planning inspired by a previous teacher in-service conducted at the academy by nationally renowned playwright Ifa Bayeza for 5th through 8th grade Blyden instructors in April, 2006.
The infused workshop material into the school’s curriculum coupled with Blyden’s art specialty and visual presentation style emphasis allowed students and teachers to fashion the creation of the Till exhibit in August reflecting an underscored historical significance to “today’s African American youth.” A special tribute was awarded to Bayeza at the exhibit opening ceremony.
Portions of the installation was also transported and made available for viewing at the Fifth Annual R.A.W. (Real Art Work) Alliance “Visions” presentation of African American art in Chicago at the Parkway Ballroom, 4455 South Martin Luther King Drive September 29, 30th, and October 1, 2006.
Considered by many to be one of the foremost scholars on the life of Emmett Louis “Bobo” Till and the facts of his murder, many years prior to the formation of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, Bayeza devoted more than a decade beginning in 1992 to the research and writing of her play “Till” which in its premier staging opened at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre April 16, 2008 with an extended run into June.
A recipient in New York of the famed Edgar Award for Best Play in 2009, her second production was the playbill schedule at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles, which opened on February 20, 2010 to April 20 with an extended run to June 1.
On the 54 anniversary of his death, The National Museum of African American History and Culture acquired the original Till casket.
The official announcement was made August 28, 2009 by the Till family at a Chicago observance.
The casket rested in Chicago’s Burr Oak Cemetery until 2005 when it was exhumed for the first-ever court ordered autopsy. The body was transferred to another casket and reburied in Burr Oak. The original casket was held at the cemetery.
The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation will use the momentum of the Till commemoration observances to launch the “Never Again” campaign against social injustice. According to the Liebenson writing, this campaign includes the covenant:
“I pledge to never again allow the ugly parts of our past history to become the present.
I will forever stand up against racism, hatred, injustice and crimes against our youth.
I will always stand up for peace, justice and equality for all.”
Watts says that she was inspired to build this movement as a result of conversations with high school and college age adults about Till’s murder and his legacy.
The question for Watts was, “what are you willing to stand up for and what are you willing to stand up against? It’s about the journey towards greatness and how to have a productive life.
It’s about how you survive and continue to be the best that you can be in a world where there is hate and injustice.
It takes courage. It takes connecting and it takes using resources available to you in a positive way.”
National Urban League Young Professionals president Barton Taylor added that the story of Emmett Till “reminds us of where we could be if we ever forgot.”
Taylor, 36, said that he learned the Till story from his mother and he also remembers reading about it and seeing pictures in the Chicago Defender, Jet, and Ebony magazines.
Due in part to the work of Bayeza and others, this past weekend Chicago observances apparently stands upon a growing multitude of individuals and organizations past and present determined to keep the memory of Emmett Louis “Bobo” Till alive.
Such a course stands indeed as a key tribute to and reflection of his curtain closing scripted words on the “Ballad” stage where the Till character most assuredly reminds us that through the annals of time despite even the obscurity of the historical record – “I rise, I rise, I rise!”
Taki S. Raton is a school consultant in the African Centered curriculum model and founder of Blyden Delany Academy in Milwaukee. A writer and lecturer detailing African World historiography, urban community issues with emphasis on education, the social development of Black youth and African American male concerns, he can be reached for presentations and consultantships at [email protected]