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Remembering Emmett Till and his legacy

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“Thank God we’re not where we used to be, but praise the Lord we’re not where we’re supposed to be.”

Those words were spoken recently by Deacon Arthur Miller, a Catholic clergyman discussing the brutal 1955 lynching murder in Mississippi of Emmett Till, who had been his neighbor in 1950s Chicago.

Till, a black teenager who had been visiting relatives in Jim Crow-era rural Mississippi, was kidnapped, tortured and killed by two white men after he allegedly flirted with Carolyn Bryant, a white shopkeeper married to the one of the men. Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother, JW Milam, were acquitted of Till’s murder a few weeks later.

The teenager’s death and – perhaps even more – the crusade led by his bereaved but courageous mother, Mamie, to bring attention to herself, was one of the sparks that ignited the civil rights movement in the United States. United States. Till’s life and his mother’s crusade are featured in a new film, “Till,” in theaters now.

While Deacon Miller may have spoken of the life and death of his childhood neighbor over 65 years ago, he also focused on a 9ft tall statue of Till recently erected in Greenwood, Mississippi, about 10 miles from the site of the store where the fateful whistling incident supposedly happened.

“Maybe this statue is a call to people to say it’s time we stood up for what’s right,” the deacon said in response to a reporter’s question. “Because it’s not about being black, it’s about social justice and our Catholic faith and what Christ has taught us.”

If in fact Deacon Miller’s words don’t ring hollow, it would be an all too rare event in the Mississippi Delta, where in recent years not one, but several signs and markers commemorating Till and the event surrounding his murder have been vandalized, defaced, demolished and even riddled with gunfire.

At least two historical markers at the site of what was once Bryant’s grocery store have disappeared or had to be replaced, and four more that had been erected on the banks of the Tallahatchie River near where Till’s body was discarded were also removed. Each had been riddled with bullets, so the newest installed there was bulletproof steel.

Yet, in the face of what appear to be ongoing local efforts to erase Till’s memory and foster the hatred that killed him, Deacon Miller believes the new statue will be a “bastion of hope that we will never allow this kind of thing”. reproduces itself. »

He is not alone. Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops‘ Anti-Racism Committee, also said he hoped those who saw the statue would ‘remember Emmett Till’ and be inspired to “do what we can to keep fighting to overcome the evil and the sin of racism.

In March – 67 years after the horrific death of Emmett Till – President Biden signed into law a bill, named after Till, making lynching a federal crime in the United States. At the time, he called the lynching “pure terror to uphold the lie that everyone…created equal.” A month earlier, shortly after his appointment by Pope Francis, the new archbishop of Louisville said working for social justice must go hand in hand with prayer.

“Laws have an important role to play in overcoming racism,” Bishop Fabre said on the Gloria Purvis podcast in February, “but laws alone will not change the human heart.”

Psalm 97:10, puts it another way: “Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he keeps the life of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. »