I may be in the minority among my readers when I say that the Emmett Till Monument, proposed yesterday to commemorate what would have been Till’s 82nd birthday, is a necessary and important contribution to our collective consciousness and memory.

Those who follow my writing have probably noticed a few things about me: one, I love America. I am unashamedly proud to be a citizen of this the greatest country on earth.

Two, I’m a huge advocate for remembering our past. As
Dr. Wilfred McClay would say, “We rode in on a horse we didn’t create. We ought to know something about that horse.”

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” we often say. But it seems to me we are sometimes afraid to apply this favorite maxim of ours to the history of race in the United States. For fear of association with the “woke” or overly race-cognizant crowd, we shy away from serious conversation about historical racism at all. Not only is this unnecessary, it is, in my opinion, unhealthy.

If we are to understand America, we need to understand all of her, not just the parts conducive to our particular political causes. It is, therefore, fitting and good that we remember Emmett Till.

SEE ALSO: There’s an American flag on the moon

For those who don’t know, Emmett Till was a black 14-year-old boy whose brutal murder at the hands of white supremacists prompted a new wave of civil rights activism in America. Although racial lynchings were not unheard of, Till’s young age and the grotesque details of his killing shocked the nation, escalating awareness about the ongoing horrors of American racism.

On August 24, 1955, Till—visiting hostile Mississippi from Chicago—and his cousins entered a white-owned grocery store to buy candy. Till was accused of flirting with the white female proprietor, Carolyn Bryant, although the specifics of what happened are disputed. Days later, Bryant’s husband and his half-brother abducted the young boy from his uncle’s home. The two men beat Till, mutilating his body, before shooting him in the face and throwing him into a river. When found, the body was so disfigured, Till could only be identified by the ring on his finger.

According to one grisly account of the lynching, Till’s “assailants… made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head and then threw his body, tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.”

Shockingly—but perhaps not surprisingly—the murderers were let off the hook by an all-white jury. Horrifically, the two men later admitted openly to killing Till, selling the details of the crime to a newspaper for $4,000.

SEE ALSO: Grant – A hero for diffident Gen Z men

“I’m no bully,” recounted one of the killers. “I never hurt a n***** in my life. I like n*****s—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, n*****s are gonna stay in their place. N*****s ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a n***** gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there… and listened to that n***** [Till] throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble…. I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'”

Needless to say, Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Bradley, was devastated by her son’s death. But what she did next transferred her horror and grief to the world to partake in: “After seeing the mutilated remains, she decided to have an open-casket funeral so that all the world could see what racist murderers had done to her only son.”

Pictures of the boy’s bloated face circulated nationwide, inciting widespread outrage.
Months later, in Montgomery, Alabama, when asked to move to the back of the bus, Rosa Parks “thought of Emmett Till and I couldn’t go back.” Posthumously, he became the icon of a movement. Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of that movement, invoked “the crying voice of a little Emmett C. Till.”

SEE ALSO: Calvin Coolidge’s must-read 4th of July speech

But what are we, today, to do about it? To be clear, no one I know says that what happened to young Emmett Till isn’t horrifying and wrong. But many conservatives have blanched at commemorating his death simply because the left is doing it, too.

If we are too disgruntled with “woke, liberal madness”—the left’s race obsession—to remember a 14-year-old who was once mutilated and lynched for no reason other than the color of his skin, we are the ones who have let politics blow history out of perspective.

Mark Meckler made a similar point several years ago when Republican Steve King was censured for racist language.

“Like many of you,” he wrote, “I have grown tired of the constant drumbeat of liberals accusing conservatives of racism. It seems… the accusation has become the catch-all term meant to disparage people of good will with whom liberals disagree. In the vast majority of cases, the allegations are absurd and offensive.” Nevertheless, he argued, “Conservatives can’t let their fatigue of political correctness dull their moral outrage over… racist language and posturing.”

The same is true of how we look at history. In many ways, the left has overblown racism in America by attributing almost everything from traffic jams (I kid you not) to our sugar-saturated diets to historical racism. But—and this is the part many conservatives do not like—that does not mean that racism in America was not evil, prevalent, and deeply hurtful. Nor does it mean that past prejudices do not still, in some ways, plague us today.

SEE ALSO: Thoughts after being called racist in public

There is a way to grapple with the horrors of American racism without denying the greatness of America. There is also a way to celebrate that greatness without whitewashing the horrors. Those who take a holistic view of history, I believe, will see both that America is an exceptionally good nation and that black Americans have, historically, been horrifically mistreated. It is possible to take both positions. We need not understate either.

It is unfortunate that the Emmett Till Monument will enter a world that cannot see both sides of the coin at once. Nevertheless, the monument itself is not a bad thing. May it remind us of where we have come from and all we have overcome.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.

About The Author