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Emmett Till’s Memorial Is Targeted Again

November 4, 2019, 8:49 PM UTC

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On Saturday, a small group of white supremacists gathered at the newly reinstalled and bulletproofed Emmett Till memorial in Tallahatchie County, Miss. They carried with them two flags, one for the state of Mississippi, and another representing the League of the South—an Alabama-based group that the Southern Poverty Law Center says is seeking to “establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate black people and other minorities.”

Under the clear sky, a man begins to speak while two women film him. 

“We are here at the Emmett Till monument that represents the Civil Rights movement for blacks. What we want to know is, where are all of the white—,” they are cut off when an alarm that has been installed to keep the memorial safe from vandalism begins to sound. They’ve been seen by a surveillance camera, their actions now captured on video.

“We got to go now, come on,” says a man holding the Mississippi flag. “We got to get the f-ck on,” another man says.

Bulletproof. Hidden video. Alarms. 

This is what it takes to protect the memory of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Chicago boy who was brutally tortured and murdered in Mississippi in August 1955, for the crime of perhaps whistling at a white woman. His death was one of the most chilling incidents of racial terrorism in the Jim Crow South. His grieving mother, Mamie Till Mobley, is credited for having galvanized a movement by insisting her son’s brutalized body rest in an open casket for the world to see.

But back in Mississippi, it’s still complicated.

Civil rights tour guide Jessie Jaynes-Diming, part of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, tells NPR that Till’s story may be a watershed moment for everyone else, in the Mississippi Delta, it’s personal. The first memorial, which was posted at the spot on the Tallahatchie River where Till’s body was recovered, was installed in 2008. It had been shot at so often that its current replacement, installed nearly two weeks ago, had to be bulletproof.

“There was a lot of pushback [about the memorial] not only from the white community but from the black community also,” she says. “Whites and blacks came to our meetings and [said] ‘Why are you all bringing this up? Why don’t y’all let that die?'”

The League’s attempt to use the current memorial as a scene in a propaganda video was just another reminder of how complicated this history is. (All respect to Ashton Pittman of the Jackson Free Press for his in-depth reporting of the incident.)

League of the South was founded in 1994 by the man in the video, Michael Hill. The group later managed to post a hasty version of their film on YouTube and finish that gripping opening salvo. “What we want to know is, where are all the white people over the last 50 years that have been murdered, assaulted, and raped by blacks going to be memorialized like this? We are League of the South,” Hill says. 

Pittman correctly points out that Hill’s diatribe is just another in a long series of false, racist claims that African Americans are more violent than white people. It’s a persistent idea that continues to bedevil the Jackson, Miss., community in many ways, including fueling the shocking re-segregation of their schools

Oh, and by the way, Mississippi has the highest percentage of black voters in the country and hasn’t had a black Senator since Blanche Bruce left office in 1881. 

In a gut-wrenching and Netflixian twist, Pittman reveals that before Hill founded the League of the South, he was a professor of British history at Stillman College—a historically black college in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

See? Complicated.

So, it should come as no surprise that more than 60 years after his murder, Emmett Till’s personal story has not ended.

His accuser, Carolyn Bryant Dunham, has largely recanted her story. Last year, the Department of Justice quietly re-opened an investigation into his death.

That Till’s memory triggers such vitriol and pain is a difficult part of life for people in Tallahatchie County. I imagine relationships between families are quietly fraught. I imagine the peace, at times, must feel fragile. I imagine that, as a community, it would be nice to be known for something other than this.

But until we can come to a broader reckoning on race in both our public systems and our private lives, Emmett Till will continue to be a complicated part of our own collective story.

That story is still to be continued.

Ellen McGirt


On Point

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Protesters in Mexico use Dia de Muertos to demand justice for missing or murdered women The demonstration took place in Mexico City, and was scheduled to coincide with the annual Día De Muertos or Day of the Dead commemoration. Carrying purple crosses and signs, relatives of missing or murdered women called the march "Dia de Muertas," or "Day of the Dead Women," and demanded justice for the girls and women who are being killed at the rate of nine per day, according to the UN. "They did not die of old age or from illness. They were snatched away, they were ripped from their families, and we want them to be seen,” activist Frida Guerrera told ABC News. "May they not remain in the invisibility of Day of the Dead celebrations."
ABC News

Naperville, Ill., no longer on Black people’s 'best places to live' lists' Customers celebrating a child’s birthday party at a Naperville-area Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant last week say they were asked to switch tables because "a regular customer" didn’t want to sit next to black people. Click through for the messy, messy details, which included a hapless young manager asking one of the adult patrons, Justin Vahl, what his ethnicity was. By Sunday night, Buffalo Wild Wings had fired two employees and said the things people say about zero tolerance. But, Vahl’s wife, Mary, posted about the experience on social media. Her story shows how tough zero tolerance turns out to be. "Meanwhile, we’ve told our waitress what was happening and she makes a comment indicating that she’s already aware he’s a racist because he’s a regular." As of this morning, her post had been shared nearly 5,000 times and generated nearly 4,000 comments.
Naperville Sun

Long live Deadspin (and Sports Illustrated). Now, shut up and dribble Louisa Thomas has done an excellent job explaining what happened at Deadspin, the "sports" site that suddenly became front page news when the entire staff quit in protest of a new and problematic "stick to sports" mandate delivered by a new and problematic corporate owner. Deadspin staffers had always "stuck to sports" in part by understanding the powerful forces which drive modern sports; by talking about money, business, politics, race, gender violence, and the like, they were also talking about sports. But Thomas does us all a service by explaining how dangerous it is when wealthy entities with no media experience or passion for the culture buy beloved sports-related brands. "[T]he anxiety around preserving sports as a carefully insulated and entertaining distraction may be as damaging as treating them merely as a vehicle for short-term profits—and may not be entirely unrelated," she says. "Sports are played by real people, and organized by real people, and watched by real people, and they are influenced by vast sums of real money. There is something dehumanizing to pretend otherwise…"
The New Yorker

On Background

What to pack to protest in Hong Kong Ira Glass and This American Life producer Emanuele Berry recently visited Katherine, a young woman who lives with her family in a working-class section of Hong Kong. She attends protests every weekend. In a strangely poignant prologue to an entire (and excellent) series on the current unrest in Hong Kong, she walks them through what she takes with her in her lightweight, maroon backpack. "I need lots and lots of tissues," to wipe her eyes after she’s teargassed, she says. There’s a first-aid kit, ear buds, two phone batteries so she can check the constantly updating maps that reveal the ever-changing police locations and escape routes, and her protest uniform—a black t-shirt and hospital mask. She also brings makeup to put on afterward. It’s a disguise to avoid detention during her journey home. "Girls doing protest barely wear makeup," she says good-naturedly.
This American Life

Are you an ethical leader? Part of the trouble is recognizing what the right thing to do in any given situation. Neil Malhotra and Ken Shotts, two political economists at Stanford Graduate School of Business, teach a class called "Values-Based Leadership," designed to prepare future leaders to grapple with some of the big questions of the day—like what are values? How do you stay true to your own values while respecting the values of others in the organization? In this excellent Q&A, they take on everything from the pitfalls of gut instinct to the creeping rationalizations that produce the Theranos’s of the world. And then there is the leadership bubble. "Powerful people typically don’t perceive that other people are agreeing with them because of their role. They have to learn to recognize that," cautions Malhotra.

Fat and lazy? Lean and mean? Why we just can’t shake the body-based stereotypes The associations have been around since the 1940s, when psychologist William Sheldon established "somatypes," three body types that he believed could be linked to personality traits. Ectomorphs, tall and thin, were shy and anxious, while the rotund endomorphs were lazy and "affection-seeking." While these theories have been completely debunked, their impacts have not. A study by researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas finds that people continued to make consistent moral judgments based on people’s body types. The fatter the body, the more negative the traits. Since obesity is more likely to be found in low-income communities where access to good food and the time to prepare it is scarce, these negative first impressions are particularly dangerous.
The Atlantic


"The Browning of America, and my native South, was not something to which I assented, and I surely do not approve of it. It is not what my ancestors intended for me to inherit. But truly I have only myself to blame for this tragic fate. While it was happening I did not do enough to stop it. Now, my children and grandchildren may have to pay the price that will come from being a hated white minority in a majority non-white land. And non-Christian, too, I might add, so I don’t expect any mercy will be shown them… So, in direct contradiction to the politically correct dictates of the current day, I pledge to be a white supremacist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a xenophobe, an Islamophobe, and any other sort of 'phobe that benefits my people, so help me God!'"

Michael Hill, Aug 18, 2016


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