It has been 64 years since the nation was rocked by the tragedy of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered while visiting his relatives in Money, Miss.
Since his lynching, as it’s been often characterized, Till’s death has stood as a gruesome symbol of racial division and hostility. More recently it has been resurrected on stage and is soon to be a documentary and a feature film.
As “Till,” the musical, was ending its run at the Pershing Square Signature Center this week as part of the New York Musical Festival, white youths in Mississippi, pictured with guns, posed in front of a bullet-riddled memorial for the slain youth near the site where he was killed.
“Unlike the first three signs, this sign calls attention to the vandalism itself,” said the Emmett Till Memorial Commission. “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.”
In the past, the commission told the press, the signs have been stolen, thrown in the river, defaced and otherwise damaged or destroyed. “The vandalism,” the commission added, “has been targeted and it has been persistent.”
They said the new sign will be of reinforced steel and weigh 500 pounds, and a gate and security cameras will be installed.
Given the nature of the past attempts to desecrate the marker, there is no reason to believe the vandals will be stopped by the current measures. Racists have consistently found new ways to undermine the legacy of African-Americans, and there’s no forgetting how often they have used explosives to make their cowardly points.
Meanwhile, there’s no word on the progress of the film projects, including the one with Whoopi Goldberg and documentarian Keith Beauchamp at the helm. Film, theater and music have been more secure ways of preserving Till’s life and legacy, and a feature film capturing his tragic death should have lasting meaning and inspiration.