Emmett Till Memorialized in Film and Larger-Than-Life Statue, but ‘Biblical Reconciliation’ Still Needed
GLENDORA, Miss. – Black history is a crucial part of American history, and in the Mississippi Delta rests the story of Emmett Till – a young boy who was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. It’s been 68-years since his lynching. Today a 9-foot statue honors Till’s legacy. However, some pastors and historians say more needs to be done to reconcile the past. “Racism is still alive in Mississippi,” says Johnny B. Thomas, mayor of the city of Glendora. Standing just a few feet away from where Emmett Till was lynched, Mayor Thomas talks about the young man’s final moments. “And the very first beating that he received was right out there on that pile of rocks,” he said. “The blood was washed out of the truck here on these grounds. His clothes burned on these grounds. And they came here to dispose of the body.” For many who live here, the Mississippi Delta is grief. Its history is steeped in racism and generational poverty, where sharecroppers worked the land, making wealth for plantation owners. It’s been called the most southern place on earth – and even after 68-years, Emmett Till’s story still haunts the Delta. The mayor hopes the statue will keep the story alive. “To make sure the young folks never forget the heinous act that took place. And to remember, not to be afraid to stand-up,” he said. After being beaten, shot and tied to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire, 14-year-old Till’s body was discarded in the Tallahatchie River. The Delta became one of the poorest regions in the US after industrialized farming. Mayor Thomas makes his living running this museum. He must wrestle with his family’s legacy here including this – how his father helped to tie young Till to the cotton gin fan . It’s where his museum stands today. State Senator David Lee Jordan has memories as well, sitting in the Sumner County Courthouse watching the two men charged with Till’s murder get acquired. Jordan says his purpose is to make life better for the people in the Delta . Her recently led an effort to install a 9-foot, $150,000 bronze statue of Till. This larger-than-life statue of Emmett Till, dedicated last year, stands boldly over the city of Greenwood, MS. Not far from where Till was kidnapped. It also reads that Till’s sacrifice in 1955 is what inspired the Civil Rights Movement. A new movie on Till is also helping to honor his legacy, and keep it alive. The actress who plays Mamie Till states in the film, “The lynching of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world – had better be the business of us all.” ***Please sign up for CBN Newsletters and download the CBN News app to ensure you keep receiving the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.*** However, some believe the memorialization of young Till via movies and statues has ripped off the band-aid of wounds that never healed. Jemar Tisby, PhD., historian, author, and professor at Simmons College of KY, said, “The danger is some people would look at the mon ument going up and say, ‘We did it, we’re done and we’ve addressed this issue and let’s move on’.” Rev. Willie Williams said, “That’s part of the work but it’s a deeper work that has to go on in our hearts, and the church have to be part of that – and I think we should.” In the same courthouse where an all-white jury acquired the two men on trial for Till’s murder, Rev. Williams preserves Till’s memory, sharing how people here are still dealing with his death. “We talk a lot about reconciliation and to me, it’s a two-fold as it relates to biblical reconciliation,” he said. Williams and his team at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center say today’s national conversation on racism needs to include healing and reconciliation. Museum Education Director Benjamin Saulsberry from the Emmett Till Interpretive Center said, “The church is made of people, and it’s up to people to bring light into situations where I think sometimes, ce try to divorc ourselves from.” Rev. Williams said, “The solutio n is to try and uplift humanity and do our part – not allow hate and unforgiveness destroy us from the inside out.” Till’s lynching is one of more than 4,000 that took place during the Jim Crow era in the 1950s and 60s. Little is known today about those who killed—and what happened to them. Leaders in the Delta say it’s up to the next generation to rise, tackle race relations head-on, and pave a new path forward. Sen. Jordan said, “That’s why I say people are more alike than they are different – and that’s why we have the largest picture of Emmett Till anywhere in the country in Greenwood, MS.” “I think we’ll eventually get there – I just think it will be too late for a lot of people,” he concluded.