This year, Mississippi state Sen. David Jordan allocated $150,000 in state funding to erect a statue for the preservation of Emmett Till’s memory in the town of Greenwood.
Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Till’s last living relative who witnessed his kidnapping, told ABC News, “This is a great day as we take another leap forward in recognizing the life and legacy of Emmett Till.”
In 1952 a 14-year-old Black boy was accused of flirting with a white woman. He was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered by her husband and brother-in-law. An all-white jury pronounced both perpetrators to be innocent.
Jordan, who was a college student at the time, drove to the courthouse to watch the murder trial and witnessed the verdict.
Today, Till’s name is synonymous with the origins of the civil rights movement. Photos from the open-casket funeral held by Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, flooded the mainstream media and sparked outrage nationwide.
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act made lynching a federal hate crime this past March. Both the law and this statute commemorate Till’s short life and the lasting impact of his death. Their purpose is to acknowledge the prevalent issue of racially-motivated crimes in America and to mitigate future harm.
However, memorials for figures associated with the civil rights movement are overshadowed by those that glorify oppressors. The “Whose Heritage?” data project by the Southern Poverty Law Center reported over 2,000 Confederate monuments still exist in the U.S.
Mississippi is number seven on the list of states with the most. One of them is located on the lawn of the Leflore County Courthouse, only a few miles from the statue of Till.
Tearing down these monuments and replacing them with figures or symbols representative of progressive activism would not be remiss. There are plenty of civil rights activists who deserve more recognition, such as “States’ Laws on Race and Color” author Pauli Murray and the March on Washington’s chief organizer, Bayard Rustin.
However, in my opinion, these changes would not be radical enough. True justice can only be achieved once the society we live in is restructured to be safe and welcoming for all.
A study from the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., found “Black children were six times more likely to be shot to death by police than white children. Hispanic children’s risk of death was almost three times higher than that of white children.”
Prejudice still serves as judge, jury and executioner for children of color who fit the fears held by those in power. Building memorials for these children will not bring them back. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act offers them no protection if their assailants possess badges.
Anyone who claims to care about the wellbeing of children should acknowledge the systemic injustices that put many at risk due to their race.
“Any death of a child is devastating but when it is due to police violence, it leads to distrust in the system and undermines the primary mission to protect,” Dr. Monika K. Goyal of the Children’s National Hospital said.
“The pattern of stark racial and ethnic disparities only adds to this tragedy, further oppressing and alienating communities of color. It’s important to investigate, identify and correct those policies and personnel that perpetuate and exacerbate these disparities.”
Photo courtesy of Nick Number, Wikipedia.