by Taki S. Raton
Normally during this eighth month in our communities, writings, festivities and observances will usually feature remembrances of such historical names as Jamaican born Pan-African nationalist and Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) founder Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. born August 17, 1887 and our then 14-year-old Emmett Louis (Bobo) Till who on August 28, 1955 was brutally murdered while visiting his uncle Mose Wright in Money, Mississippi. This 2012 year would mark the 57th observance of his death.
But his year was a little different. There had been an exuberant inspirational uplifting of “Blackness” that appears to have been energized months preceding August. One may witness this on Facebook’s “Homepage” where around the country, a surge of celebrative cultural “Black Stuff” has just been magnificently flowering weekly, be it music festivals, book signings, Gallery openings, and a plethora of meaningful conferences and lectures hosting vanguard speakers. In major cities around the country, there was always something positive and progressively “Black” to do.
Indeed, we don’t even have to travel outside Milwaukee to evidence such culturally enriching experiences. Nationally certified school psychologist, kinsmen to abolitionist Frederick Douglas and a presenter in the renowned and widely acclaimed film “Hidden Colors,” Dr. Umar R. Abdullah Johnson spoke here in Milwaukee on multiple occasions – May 18 and 19 for our Afrikan Liberation Day Observance and again on June 21 as featured speaker sponsored by the Be the Change initiative.
Dr. Ray Hagins, Chief Elder and Spiritual Leader of the Afrikan Village and Cultural Center in St. Louis was featured on April 28. Nationally and internationally renowned author, researcher educator and presenter Dr. Joy DeGruy was the keynote speaker Saturday, July 4 at the 33rd National Convention of the National Black United Front (NBUF) banquet. DeGruy is acclaimed for her book “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”. Public Enemy’s Professor Griff delivered a very informative and passionate presentation on Friday, July 27 followed by “Holy Lockdown – Does the Church Limit Black Progress?” and “The New Doubting Thomas” author Jeremiah Camara on Friday, August 10.
Pursenality, AfrikanSpeak.com and the Milwaukee chapter of NBUF were among the primary sponsorship of the majority of these presentations held at the Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters Hall, 7717 West Good Hope Road. Dr. Johnson’s Be the Change address was held at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, 2620 West Center Street.
As we move into August, the Internet, Facebook postings and internet radio broadcast simmered with promotional announcements during this “Black August” month often bannered with nationalist iconic red, black and green symbolism. A brotha out of Washington on Facebook has Black folk postings with a raised left Black fist sporting a t-shirt with “RBG 4 Life” – that would be “Red, Black, and Green for Life” with the Kemetic symbol of “Life” in place of the word “Life”.
Around the country, there were observances honoring Garvey. Here in Milwaukee, the annual “GarveyFest 2012” was held August 17th and 18th at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, 2620 West Center Street.
Sponsored by Africans on the Move (AOM), hip hop artist and activist, Jasiri X was invited on August 18 to conduct a workshop and a parade kicked off the Saturday schedule followed by performances and presentations by the Nefertari Dancers and Drummers, Gat Turner, Muhibb Dyer, Viva Fidel, Firey Phoenix, and Young Sisters of YLA.
Included also during the day’s festivities were a Children’s Activity Tent, an African Marketplace and an African History Jeopardy quiz.
Born in St. Ann’s Bey, Jamaica on August 17, 1887, Garvey arrived in the United States 1914 and began to organize the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In 1917, he traveled to Harlem and published the “Negro World,” a journal promoting African nationalist ideals. He established the Black Star shipping line with the intent of sending Blacks back to Africa.
His organization was extremely popular and by 1919, the UNIA had 30 branches and over 2 million members. Along with the UNIA, Garvey additionally initiated the African Communities League (ACL) created to establish economic stability and independence in African communities in American and around the world. As quotes by Amy Ashwood: “Our love for African and our concern for the welfare of our race urges us on to immediate action.”
As noted in published AOM promotional accounts, the legacy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey helped to educate and inspire Blacks about our noble identity as an African people and challenges us to “rise up you mighty race and accomplish what you will.” As so noted:
“The Garveys and the U.N.I.A. inspired their people to work to reclaim and to unify their homeland Africa, no matter if they’d never see the day of its redemption: ‘All of us may not live to see the higher accomplishment of an African Empire—so strong and powerful, as to compel the respect of mankind. But we in our lifetime can so work and act as to make the dream a possibility within another generation.’”
Black August Month also marks the observance of Emmitt Till. “We’ve known his story forever, it seems. Maybe that’s because it’s a tale so stark and powerful that it has assumed an air of timelessness, something almost mythical,” says writer Richard Rubin in the opening remarks in his article “The Ghosts of Emmett Till” appearing in the July 31, 2005 issue of the “New York Times” magazine.
With the blessing of his mother Mamie Till Bradley, Emmett left his 6427 South St. Lawrence Chicago address on August 20,1955 for a visit with his uncle Mose in Money, Mississippi. This young teen was fatherless and his mother felt that it would be good for him to be around male relatives.
On August 24, the fourth day of his stay, Till, his cousins Simeon and Maurice Wright and Wheeler Parker went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. While in the store, by some accounts, Till allegedly made inappropriate remarks to the then 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the owner’s wife, and even wolf-whistled at her.
Four days later around 2 a.m. Sunday, August 28, Carolyn’s husband Roby Bryant, his half brother J.W. Milam, and others including at least one identified Black man, forcibly took Emmett from his bed in his uncle’s house.
Three days following on August 31, Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound steel cotton gin fan barbed wired to his neck. His head and body had been beaten and tortured. An apparent bullet hole was found in his forehead.
On September 3, Emmett’s body was taken to Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God for viewing and funeral services. A reported over 50,000 mourners came to view the mutilated body. Mama Till insisted on an open-casket viewing to show what had been done to her son.
Appearing in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, the graphic photos of Till’s battered body in the casket galvanized disgust throughout the country and provided the emerging thrust of what would soon unfold as the country’s Civil Rights Movement.
The twenty-four year old Bryant and 36-year-old Milam were arrested and charged with the young teen’s death. Nonetheless, a twelve member all-white jury in a Sumner, Mississippi segregated courthouse on Friday, September 23, after deliberating for just 67 minutes, acquitted the defendants.
Somber observances and posted writings occur nationally in remembrance of Till. Here in Milwaukee as part of an expanded demonstration project under the direction of art instructor Gavin Smith, the Blyden Delany Academy’s fifth through eighth grade students prepared an exhibit honoring Till which opened Saturday, August 25, 2006 for two weeks at the African American Women’s Center. This presentation, unveiled a lifestyle mache model of the slain teen created by Delany students.
Entitled “Emmett”, the exhibit focused on the life and death of Till and his significance to African American youth. The program additionally honored the nationally renowned playwright Ifa Bayeza who devoted more than a decade to the research and writing of her play “Till” which opened at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre April 26, 2008.
An estimated 17,000 theater goers patronized the 850 seat Albert Theater over its seven-week run towards its extended June 1 closing date.
Considered to be one of the foremost scholars on the life of Emmett Till and the circumstances surrounding his murder, Bayeza planned and facilitated a two-day professional development in-service on the slain youth for the then Blyden faculty on April 28 and April 29, 2006. The playwright was also the recipient in New York of the famed Edgar Award for Best Play in 2009. Her second production on Till opened at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles February 20, 2010.
Taki S. Raton is an adjunct professor at Milwaukee’s Springfield College and a school consultant in the African Centered instructional model. Former founder and principle of Blyden Delany Academy in Milwaukee, he is a writer and lecturer on the national stage detailing African World historiography, urban community concerns with emphasis on education, the social development of Black youth and African American male issues. He can be reached by email for presentation and consultant inquires at: [email protected]