The story of 15-year-old Emmett Till of Chicago, murdered while on summer vacation in Money, Mississippi, was among the events in the mid-‘50s that mobilized the Civil Rights Movement; the tragedy was chronicled by Bob Dylan in one of his earliest songs. This clip contains a bit of background as well as the audio of the song which tells the story.
Oddly, I had long been holding tickets to attend a staged reading this week of Ifa Bayeza’s play, The Ballad of Emmett Till, in which the scene above with Mose Wright is recreated, as is mother Mamie Till’s testimony. The script was beautifully written and the acting superb, especially by Lorenz Arnell who played Till. But I had a difficult time sitting through the show, in light of the recent events in the Sunshine State, and the information that continues to surface following the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Today, as people gather in Union Square in New York City to protest the racially motivated killing of the young man in Sanford, Florida on February 26, his assailant has not yet been arrested or charged. The rally is intended not only to shine a light on injustice—Martin’s murder was clearly a hate crime and needs to be treated with the kind of seriousness that an offense like that demands—but a plea to end the practice of racial profiling.
It’s been fifty years since Dylan sang his song about Emmett Till and it is unthinkable that it should have to be reprised as a mourning song anymore, except to be used as a history lesson. I encourage people unfamiliar with the Trayvon Martin case to read up on it and to listen to Dylan’s song. I hope that all of us will think of Martin and his family, and think of Emmett Till and his kin, and of all the Trayvon Martins and would-be Emmett Tills out there. And if there’s a freedom singer in the town square, maybe he or she will sing these verses loud, so everyone can hear them, all over this land, once and for all.
If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust…
…But if all us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give
We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live.
Read more on “The Death of Emmett Till” in Keep on Pushing