Emmett Till Bullet-Proof Memorial with Surveillance Cameras Opens in Mississippi

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The sordid, scarred American story of Emmett Till’s lynching in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi opened a new chapter on Saturday, with the installation of a bullet-proof memorial for the civil rights martyr. Members of Till’s family gathered at Graball Landing, the spot where the pummeled and brutalized, horrifically-disfigured body of the 14-year-old Chicago boy was pulled from the Tallahatchie River after his murder in 1955.

The staggeringly-brutal attack was the result of Till allegedly offending a white woman Carolyn Bryant in her family’s grocery store. Decades later, Bryant disclosed that she had fabricated part of the testimony regarding her interaction with Till, specifically the portion where she accused Till of grabbing her waist and uttering obscenities; "that part's not true.”

Till’s murderers led by Roy Bryant, husband to Carolyn Bryant, and J.W. Milam were absolved of all crimes by what can only be described as a kangaroo court, adding fuel to the historic event largely seen as the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

From left to right, Ole Miss students Ben LeClere, John Howe, and Howell Logan posing with guns by the bullet-ridden plaque marking the place where the body of murdered civil rights icon Emmett Till was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. The photo was posted to LeClere’s Instagram account in March.

From left to right, Ole Miss students Ben LeClere, John Howe, and Howell Logan posing with guns by the bullet-ridden plaque marking the place where the body of murdered civil rights icon Emmett Till was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. The photo was posted to LeClere’s Instagram account in March.

White southern males have continued their effort to destroy Emmett Till and dishonor his memory by regularly shooting up the local commemoration memorial erected as a marker of one of America’s saddest and most dishonorable events in our racial hatred-fraught historical narrative.

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Speaking at the unveiling of the new, bullet-proof memorial on Saturday, Reverend Willie Williams, co-director of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, which advocated for the new marker said “This marker answers the question as to what we do with our history. Do we learn from it? Do we use it to help our society have greater respect for humanity? This answers that.”

Unlike previous markers placed near the location, the new metallic, heavy-weight commemorative memorial will be located behind a gate and placed under the watch of surveillance cameras, according to the memorial commission.

Remembering Emmett Till Book

On May 15, 2019, Remembering Emmett Till by Dave Tell of the University of Kansas was published by the University of Chicago Press. The book is the product of both publicly engaged scholarship—the Emmett Till Memory Project (ETMP)—and years of research and writing supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Tell’s experience shows how public engagement and publishing can go hand in hand.

The publicly engaged project, which Tell embarked upon in collaboration with the Emmett Till Memorial Commission of Tallahatchie County, Inc (ETMC) has worked to create a “vandal-proof” way of marking Till’s story, according to Tell. “After Emmett Till was killed in 1955, 49 years and 11 months passed without a single marker erected in his memory in the state of Mississippi,” Tell explains. “In late 2005, the ETMC was formed to create the state’s first commemorative infrastructure. They began putting up signs in 2008 and were quickly confronted with a problem: vandalism. Two roadside markers had been stolen; two others were filled with bullet holes, another was spray-painted with the letters “KKK,” and, as recently as July 2017, Emmett Till’s marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail was defaced with acid. Eventually, the vandalism would become national news; in 2014 it seemed like the commission and a few stray scholars were the only ones who cared.”

2017 Whitney Biennial

In 2017 at the Whitney Biennial in Manhattan, a painting of Emmett Till by white woman artist Dana Schutz drew the furor of black activists in what became a large public protest and discussion that spilled beyond the art community. AOC followed the details of that intensely emotional dispute that signaled a new opportunity for intense dialogue around race in America in a community of so-called like-minded people.

Related: Emmett Till’s Murder, and How America Remembers Its Darkest Moments Feb. 20, 2019 New York Times

Emmett Till Memorial to Be Replaced With Bulletproof Sign Due to Repeated Vandalism

Emmett Till Memorial to Be Replaced With Bulletproof Sign Due to Repeated Vandalism

In 2007, a sign was erected along the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi, marking the spot where the body of Emmett Till was pulled from the water in 1955. The murder of Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was brutally killed by two white men, became a galvanizing incident of the Civil Rights Movement. But over the years, the memorial commemorating his death has been repeatedly vandalized—first stolen, then shot at, then shot at again, according to Nicole Chavez, Martin Savidge and Devon M. Sayers of CNN. Now, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission is planning to replace the damaged memorial with a bulletproof sign.

This will be the fourth sign that the commission has placed at the site. The first was swiped in 2008, and no arrests were ever made in connection with the incident. The replacement marker was vandalized with bullets, more than 100 rounds over the course of several years. Just 35 days after it was erected in 2018, the third sign was shot at as well.

The third memorial made headlines recently when Jerry Mitchell of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, in conjunction with ProPublica, revealed that three University of Mississippi students had been suspended from their fraternity house after posing in front of the sign with guns, in a photo that was posted to the private Instagram account of one of the students. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the incident.

The sign has now been taken down, and a new one is “on its way,” Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, said last week, according to CBS News. Chavez, Savidge and Sayers of CNN report that the replacement memorial will weigh 600 pounds and be made of reinforced steel. It is expected to go up by the Tallahatchie River in October.

“Unlike the first three signs, this sign calls attention to the vandalism itself,” the commission noted. “We believe it is important to keep a sign at this historic site, but we don’t want to hide the legacy of racism by constantly replacing broken signs. The commission hopes this sign will endure, and that it will continue to spark conversations about Till, history, and racial justice.”

Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith Celebrates Mississippi Confederacy At Every Opportunity

“I ENJOYED MY TOUR OF BEAUVOIR. THE JEFFERSON DAVIS HOME AND PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY LOCATED IN BILOXI,” HYDE-SMITH WROTE IN A CAPTION ON THIS PHOTOS POSTED TO HER FB PAGE IN 2014. DAVIS WAS THE CONFEDERATE PRESIDENT DURING THE CIVIL WAR. HIS FORMER ESTATE NOW SERVES AS A MUSEUM AND LIBRARY IN HIS HONOR.  “THIS IS A MUST SEE,” HYDE-SMITH WROTE. “CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY ARE ARTIFACTS CONNECTED TO THE DAILY LIFE OF THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIER INCLUDING WEAPONS. MISSISSIPPI HISTORY AT ITS BEST!”

“I ENJOYED MY TOUR OF BEAUVOIR. THE JEFFERSON DAVIS HOME AND PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY LOCATED IN BILOXI,” HYDE-SMITH WROTE IN A CAPTION ON THIS PHOTOS POSTED TO HER FB PAGE IN 2014. DAVIS WAS THE CONFEDERATE PRESIDENT DURING THE CIVIL WAR. HIS FORMER ESTATE NOW SERVES AS A MUSEUM AND LIBRARY IN HIS HONOR.

“THIS IS A MUST SEE,” HYDE-SMITH WROTE. “CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY ARE ARTIFACTS CONNECTED TO THE DAILY LIFE OF THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIER INCLUDING WEAPONS. MISSISSIPPI HISTORY AT ITS BEST!”

Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith Celebrates Mississippi Confederacy At Every Opportunity

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith attended and graduated from a segregation academy that was set up so that white parents could avoid having to send their children to schools with black students, a yearbook reveals. Hyde-Smith enrolled her own daughter at Brookhaven Academy, another Mississippi segregation school founded in 1970, the Jackson Free Press reported.

The latest race-related battle around Tuesday’s Mississippi Senate race with Democrat Mike Espy follows a recent leaked tape in which Hyde-Smith said that she would gladly attend a “public hanging” is one of her supporters invited her. The statement was outrageous, given Mississippi’s history as the lynching capital of the United States.

One of the most famous lynchings in Mississippi was the savage and brutal death of 14-year old Chicago child Emmett Till.

Hyde-Smith is very proud of Mississippi history and has no hesitation to celebrate the segregated south, saying that the Confederacy represents “Mississippi history at its best.”

I thought of Hillary Clinton, when reading this story. At considerable personal risk to herself, then 24-year-old law student Hillary was working for Marian Wright Edelman, the civil rights activist and prominent advocate for children. Mrs. Edelman had sent her to Alabama in 1972 to help prove that the Nixon administration was not enforcing the legal ban on granting tax-exempt status to so-called segregation academies, the estimated 200 private academies that sprang up in the South to cater to white families after a 1969 Supreme Court decision forced public schools to integrate.

Hillary posed as a young wife, telling the guidance counselor of a seg school that her husband had just taken a job in Dothan, that they were a churchgoing family and that they were looking for a school for their son.

Like many white activists from the North who traveled south to help on civil rights issues, Mrs. Clinton confronted a different world in Dothan, separate and unequal, and a sting of injustice she had previously only read about.

Stars Align In Alabama: Emmett Till; Four Birmingham, Alabama Church-Going Girls; Doug Jones; Dana Schutz & Racial Reconciliation

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Stars Align In Alabama: Emmett Till; Four Birmingham, Alabama Church-Going Girls; Doug Jones; Dana Schutz & Racial Reconciliation

Nigerian-born, Huntsville-raised, U of Alabama grad Toyin Ojih Odutola first got the attention of Voguemagazine when the poet Claudia Rankine published as essay in Aperture magazine, "A New Grammar for Blackness'. 

A year later, Toyin Ojih Odutola has mounted a solo show 'To Wander Determined' at the Whitney Museum in New York. Upon entering the show, visitors see a letter written by Odutola in the persona of the 'Deputy Private Secretary' for two aristocratic families in Lagos. 

artNet writes: "For Ojih Odutola, their images form a corrective to a Eurocentric art history that thinks of both court portraiture and genre paintings as belonging to a primarily white world, with black characters as footnotes—cast as servants, slaves, or left out completely.."

The topic of black identity, colonialism, and cultural appropriation have lived front and center in our national -- and international -- dialogue in 2017. 

2017 Whitney Biennial Curators Lew & Lockshave Stand Firm On 'Open Casket' Controversy

2017 Whitney Biennial Curators Lew & Lockshave Stand Firm On 'Open Casket' Controversy

2017 Whitney Biennial Co-Curator Responds To 'Open Casket' Controversy

Not in recent memory has a single painting caused such controversy and furor in the contemporary art world as Dana Schutz's 'Open Casket' (2016), part of New York's current Whitney Biennial. The portrait focuses on the disfigured corpse of Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 at age 14 by a Mississippi lynch mob after conflicting stories about whistling -- or 'worse' according to suggestive innuendos in court testimony -- at a white woman. 

The two Biennial creators  Christopher Lew and Mia Lockshave also become the target of criticism, and Artnet New's editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein spoke to Lew about the controversy.

It's easy to forget that there are 62 other artists in the Whitney Biennial with all the controversy around 'Open Casket'. Referencing the dynamic playing out in the summer of 2016, when final curatorial decisions were being made for the Biennial, Goldstein summarizes America's mindset: Read on.

Fake Letter Requesting Removal Of Dana Schutz' 'Open Casket' Emmett Till Painting Dials Up Protest Temperature

The controversy around artist Dana Schutz' controversial painting 'Open Casket' and the horrific death of Emmett Till continues at the Whitney Biennial. This shocking image above appeared in Google Images and is from former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos' website

The debated work is based on a photograph from the funeral of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black American who was murdered in Mississippi for flirting with a white woman. 

Schutz shared her perspective about the painting with ArtNet News, saying:

You’ve said in the Times that you approached the painting as a mother, and as a way to explore a mother’s pain. Would there have been no way to address the subject without, as your critics would have it, appropriating black experience?

It was the feeling of understanding and sharing the pain, the horror. I could never, ever know her experience, but I know what it is to love your child. I don’t know if there would be a way to address the subject without some way of approaching it on a personal level.

Could you have foreseen that you were stepping on a third rail by treating this explosive subject? If so, what made it necessary to paint Emmett Till specifically?
Yes, for many reasons. The anger surrounding this painting is real and I understand that. It’s a problematic painting and I knew that getting into it. I do think that it is better to try to engage something extremely uncomfortable, maybe impossible, and fail, than to not respond at all.

Will the reaction to the painting change anything about your practice in the future?
I’m sure it has to.

On Thursday morning several new outlets including Artsy, Frieze, and Out Magazine published parts or all of an open letter alleged to have been written by the artist Dana Schutz, requesting that the painting be removed from the exhibition. Shortly after, the letter addressed to Whitney Biennial 2017 co-curators Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks was declared to be a fake by  Stephen Soba, the Whitney Museum’s director of communications.

Queer artist Parker Bright has maintained a vigil in front of the painting, blocking its view. Bright met with Lew and Locks to express his views, and he was assured that Schutz would not sell the painting or profit from it in any way, writes Out.

Artist Hannah Black sent a letter earlier in the week to the curators, requesting that the painting be moved and destroyed. AOC will revisit this story after digesting a number of essays and thoughtful pieces about the controversy.

Read AOC's original story, including the full text of Black's letter to the Whitney and new details around Emmett Till's death: Dana Schutz' Painting Of Emmett Till Creates Controversy At Whitney Biennial 2017 AOC Salon