Do You Remember?
Many people have described the impact of Emmett Till's 1955 murder in their lives. Bob Dylan wrote a song about the crime. Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and Audre Lorde wrote poems. James Baldwin wrote a play based on the incident. Read some well-known Americans' memories of Emmett Till's murder.
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I was a senior at Los Angeles High School in California. It had a profound affect on me because I understood that it could have happened to any of us. It shook my confidence. It was as though terrorists had struck -- but it was terrorists from our own country. It made me want to do everything I could to make sure this event would not happen ever again.
Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.
high-profile trial lawyer
My memories are exact -- and parallel those of many others my age -- I felt vulnerable for the first time in my life -- Till was a year younger -- and recall believing that this could easily happen to me -- for no reason at all. I lived in Pennsylvania at the time.
civil rights leader and chairman, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Emmett Till and I were about the same age. A week after he was murdered... I stood on the corner with a gang of boys, looking at pictures of him in the black newspapers and magazines. In one, he was laughing and happy. In the other, his head was swollen and bashed in, his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his mouth twisted and broken. His mother had done a bold thing. She refused to let him be buried until hundreds of thousands marched past his open casket in Chicago and looked down at his mutilated body. [I] felt a deep kinship to him when I learned he was born the same year and day I was. My father talked about it at night and dramatized the crime. I couldn't get Emmett out of my mind...
See the grisly photo of Emmett Till's corpse that had such an impact on Ali. Be advised -- it is a graphic image.
It was only in later years, through exposure to civil rights history, that many of our generation who grew up in the deep South learned about Emmett Till's murder.
Television was in its infancy in the mid-1950s, and many homes didn't have one. If they did, they only got local stations. Most newspapers in states like Alabama and Mississippi did not even report on incidents like the Till murder. In fact, the Montgomery Advertiser did not send reporters to cover the Voting Rights March between Selma and Montgomery -- and that was in 1965!
civil rights lawyer and founder, Southern Poverty Law Center
I was fifteen years old when I began to hate people. I hated the white men who murdered Emmett Till and I hated all the other whites who were responsible for the countless murders... But I also hated Negroes. I hated them for not standing up and doing something about the murders.
civil rights activist
It was Monday morning when my family got the word about the death of Emmett Till. I was barely two years younger than he and in the South for one of the first times that I was old enough to remember. My mother was particularly disturbed by the incident and spent most of the morning counseling me on "being careful," a non-specific term which at the time I took to mean watching out for traffic on unfamiliar country roads....
On subsequent trips to the region I was "more careful." I was also more apprehensive about being there. I was never sure what to do when in contact with Southern whites, and therefore I tried as much as possible never to make such contacts. My personal experience and the story of Emmett Till, which I read in great and gory detail upon my return North, served to confirm my notion that the South and its white people were different and dangerous.... I wondered if I would ever understand these people and their society. The need to understand encouraged my graduate study of Southern history...
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