Fifty years ago today, 14 year old Emmett Till was savagely lynched by racist whites in Mississippi. He was Mamie Till’s only son. When Mamie heard about her son’s vicious murder, she made an incredulous decision. Instead of grieving privately or “giving it to God” she allowed the battered and beaten body of Emmett to be photographed for the “world to see.” She also demanded an open casket at her son’s funeral. She would spend the rest of her life fighting for justice not only for Emmett but for all African Americans.
At a very young age, I saw the photo in Jet Magazine; my young mind couldn’t fathom that the grotesque, disfigured body was once a handsome and vibrant young man.
As I grew older and delved into the history of the atrocity, I couldn’t help but admire the strength and reserved indignation of Ms. Mamie. Years later I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Mamie at a gathering of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty. I witnessed that same resolve and determination.
When Ms Mamie hugged me, I let her what an inspiration she was to me. She died shortly after that encounter but because of her defiance, Emmett Till is an extricable part of America’s ugly written history. Mamie Till’s act of bold resistance is why we remember the Emmett Till story.