Thursday, August 28, 2008

Remembering where we've been and celebrating where we are

In the early hours of August 28, 1955, four people drove up to a small home in the rural Mississippi delta, and two of them pounded on the door and told the man who lived there to send out his nephew. Being that the visitor was a white man, Moses Wright -- a black 64-year-old sharecropper and preacher -- had no choice but to do what he was told and wake Emmett Till. The 14-year-old was taken away in a car with four white people, and his body -- which had been savagely beaten, shot and weighted down -- was found the next day in the nearby Tallahatchie River.

Those involved were acquitted by a jury of a dozen white men, which took all of an hour to deliberate. Later, the defendants admitted to friends that they had killed the boy. Till was from Chicago and, earlier in the day, had spoken to or whistled at a white woman at a local store. When the badly disfigured body arrived home, Till's mother made the fateful decision to open the casket for the funeral, and the photos and stories elicited widespread outrage across the country and in Europe. Thus, the American Civil Rights movement began.

Today, 53 years later, another Chicagoan is poised to accept his party's nomination for president of the United States. Maybe in the last half century America would have risen up and come to the point where we have the chance to vote for someone that is partly of African descent, but as Barack Obama hits the stage in Denver this evening he, and all of us, should remember Emmett Till.

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