Emmett Till Could've Been Me.
I'm a 23 year-old black male.
I'm a 23 year-old black male living in America.
I'm a 23 year-old black male living in America and with my single mother.
I'm a 23 year-old black male living in America with my single mother and, I think, I'm doing fine.
But less than a decade ago I was a 14 year-old black kid living in America with my single mother and, by certain standards, I wasn't doing so well.
At that age I was questioning seemingly everything. Rules, religion, relationships, people, and most importantly, I was questioning myself. Where do I fit in? How should I react or approach certain things? Who am I?
So innocent at the time I freely set out to find out how I fit into groups, situations, scenarios. I joined sports, social clubs, academic programs and I talked to strangers...I talked to strangers.
It was so innocent. I’d look for the people who didn’t look like me because often times it meant their story was different from my own and, well, I wanted to know it. “Good morning,” to the little old lady, a simple “hello” to a conductor, or even holding the door for a mother ushering her kids out of a deli -- all simple acts serving as conversation starters. See, I was young and I was a dreamer (still am), a believer in being genuine and polite. But I was lucky. Not even a century ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Shit, I shouldn’t have done that in my own lifetime. I was stupid.
It was recently revealed that Carolyn Bryant, at the time a 72 year-old woman, confessed to lying about the accusations she brought against a 14 year-old black male in August of 1955. This much we know -- he either said something, or whistled in her direction. With this confession ultimately confirming the worst kept secret in the history of homicidal crime (sorry OJ), I can’t help but think of myself at that age. What if Emmett Till was like me? What if he just wanted to say hi? Strike up a conversation? What if I was visiting my family in rural Mississippi in 1955 and I just wanted to say hi?
What was it like when they came for him? Beat him? Shot him? Weighed him down with that fan out of that cotton gin?
All because he might have just wanted to say hi. He was beaten. Shot. Weighed down with the fan of a cotton gin. His body, mangled and mutilated, was left in a river.
To be fair to Mrs. Bryant (wait, let me finish!), maybe she just wasn’t able to understand that the possible repercussions of fabricating a story about her encounter with a 14 year-old black male -- who maybe just wanted to say hi -- would include him being beaten (one eye removed from his head), shot in the head (done at close range, the bullet exiting his skull), tied down with the fan of a cotton gin (eh, just for added effect), and then left in a river (more added effect?).
….nah, I tried….
...Race-relations today are better than they were in 1955. But that was 62 years ago. If you’re like me -- I’m not afraid to admit it -- and you learn that this incident was considered a spark plug of the Civil Rights Movement, you should also consider that is was ONLY 62 freaking years ago...
He was a fourteen year-old black male living in America, with his single mother, and not a care in the world. He stuttered but was known for being quick-witted. Emmett Till could’ve been Marlon Dundas. Marlon Dundas could’ve been Emmett Till.
We’ve come a long way, but that was only 62 years ago.