Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2003 / 7 Shevat, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

This mother wouldn't let us ignore grisly ugliness of racism

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | If you ever saw that picture of Emmett Till, you never forgot it.

Not the one that shows a handsome brown teenager, hat tipped up slightly off his forehead. Not, in other words, the before picture.

No, I'm talking about the picture that was taken after. After he went down from Chicago to visit family in Mississippi in the late summer of 1955. After he accepted a schoolboy dare to flirt with a white woman working behind the counter of the general store. After he called her "baby," and allegedly gave a wolf whistle. After her husband and his half brother came for him in the dead of night. After his body was fished from the Tallahatchie River.

The picture of him that was taken then, published in Jet magazine and flashed around the world, was stomach turning. A lively and prankish boy had become a bloated grotesquerie, an ear missing, an eye gouged out, a bullet hole in his head. You looked at that picture and you felt that here was the reason coffins have lids.

But his mother refused onlookers that mercy, refused to give him a closed-casket funeral. She delayed the burial for four days, keeping her son's mutilated body on display as thousands came to pay their respects. "I wanted the world to see what I had seen," she later explained. "I wanted the world to see what had happened in Mississippi. I wanted the world to see what had happened in America."

The world saw and was electrified.

Mamie Till Mobley died in Chicago on Monday, apparently of a heart attack. And if one were seeking to sum up her life, it might be enough to say that she spent 47 years keeping the casket open, speaking, writing and agitating in the name of her murdered son. Indeed, her book "The Death of Innocence" is due for release later this year.

I met her once, maybe 30 years after her son's death, by which point she must have told his story a million times. And she still welled up as she spoke, her voice stammering and turning gray.

At the time, I was writing and producing a radio documentary tracing over 500 years of black history. I'll never forget my narrator's response when he reviewed a script that recounted Emmett's ordeal and the ordeals of other black men and women who were hanged, burned and hacked to pieces for the crime of being. He jokingly dubbed me "the Stephen King of black history" for my insistence on including the grisly details.

But I happen to believe Mamie Till Mobley was right to keep the casket open.

We're always so eager to hide the horror. Close the casket, turn your eyes, use euphemism to obscure truths too obscene.

Consider Trent Lott's first attempt at apology, when he blithely described segregation as "the discarded policies of the past." If you didn't know any better, you might have thought he was talking about farm subsidies or tax code, so bloodless and opaque was the language.

But segregation wasn't opaque and it surely wasn't bloodless. It was a Mississippi courtroom where the sheriff sauntered in every day and greeted spectators in the colored section with a cheery, "Hello, niggers." It was two white men freely admitting that they had kidnapped a black Chicago boy. It was witnesses who placed the men at a barn inside which they heard a child being tortured. And it was a jury of white men who heard this evidence, then deliberated for less than an hour before returning an acquittal.

As one of them told a reporter, "If we hadn't stopped to drink pop, it wouldn't have took that long."

This is the fetid truth behind the flowery words, the stinking fact much of the nation would prefer not to know.

But by her very presence, a murdered boy's mother demanded that we be better than that, demanded that we be, at least and at last, brave enough to face the horrors we have made and that have, in turn, made us.

Mamie Till Mobley was 81 years old at the time of her death. Her only child was 14 at the time of his.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.


Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

12/17/02: Michael Jackson's disappearing act
12/06/02: After affirmative action, what next?
12/03/02: We deserve a break today from McDonald's lawsuits
11/19/02: On question of Megan's Law, information trumps other concerns
11/12/02: Winona, just say, 'I'm sorry'
11/08/02: Your local police, brought to you by Joe's Bar and Grill
11/05/02: A father, a son and an essay
10/29/02: Things like this don't happen
10/22/02: Real monsters look just like women and men
10/18/02: Snoop's new tune rings hollow
10/15/02: A reminder of life's random cruelty
10/08/02: He toils in the name of change because he can't just stand by
10/01/02: Sharpton, crossing swords with the white corporate dragon, needs to learn what the civil rights movement really was about
09/25/02: A skewed sense of compassion
09/18/02: On death and a pop-culture mindset
09/10/02: Inconvenience me, PLEASE!
09/06/02: Latest CBS joke isn't funny
09/03/02: A rewarding life as a working stiff
08/30/02: We infants in men's clothing
08/27/02: Sept. 11 - How much is too much?
08/23/02: Cut it out already, media!
08/20/02: Brace yourself for attacks of the stealth ads
08/16/02: Russia, please, pretty please let the rocker hitch a ride into space
08/12/02: Racial 'colorblindness' is silly
07/30/02: Oh, to be famous
07/19/02: In Pop-Music Thriller, Jacko Takes on Sony
07/09/02: The password is 'frustration'
06/25/02: My Head And Heart Are At Odds - I Can't Watch Video Of Pearl's Beheading
06/21/02: Your kid's going to pay for cheating --- eventually
06/18/02: Stuffy 'correctness' robs races of give and take
06/07/02: A gift of the Masai
06/04/02: Now what? Use your 9/11 pain to combat complacency
05/24/02: Has your life changed since 9/11?
05/19/02: New world disorder is nothing to smile about
05/14/02: White men can jump, so why do black kids come up short in the classroom?
05/03/02: Catholic Church should be ashamed for blaming abuse victims
04/19/02: A reminder of how small the world has become
04/16/02: 100 death-penalty mistakes and counting
04/12/02: Until all the bad guys wear black hats
04/10/02: Connecting with history with hope for future
04/08/02: Just me and the boys: A black father's road trip
03/26/02: It's time to give up fighting the good fight and join the masses
03/22/02: It's not the art, it's the artist who's troubling
03/19/02: Don't ask, don't tell when it comes to police work
03/15/02: Do we have an inalienable right to TV?
03/12/02: What will we learn about ourselves as war toll grows?
03/08/02: Marriage madness --- oh, please!
03/05/02: A risk free life
03/01/02: Pentagon's idea of lying to media was breathtaking' in its stupidity
02/16/02: Will the Afghans forgive the U.S. for the beating of innocents?
02/15/02: In search of manhood, some make a fatal decision
02/08/02: Time for blacks to give the same respect they demand
02/05/02: A question of character and "unlawful combatants"
01/31/02: There's only so much a parent can influence a child
01/29/02: Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment
01/25/02: Acts of patriotism or acts of desecration?
01/18/02: Waiting for tears in the rain at Ground Zero
01/15/02: A little cultural respect works both ways
01/11/02: Can blacks be racist?
01/07/02: What price for the priceless?
12/21/01: An intriguing study on race
12/18/01: To err is me
12/14/01: Admit it, folks, If you've ever been 16, you can probably relate to Walker
12/11/01: Blacks-on-blacks poll is a healthy project
12/07/01: The best defense against government excesses
12/05/01: Better hoist caution flag
12/03/01: Martin Luther Ka-CHING!
11/27/01: Beauty reflects an ugly truth
11/22/01: Another reason to be thankful
11/19/01: If only they knew our names
11/12/01: Watching a 'dying' man live
08/01/01: Should a man be put in jail for what he's thinking?
07/27/01: It's your responsibility to invade their privacy
07/20/01: Is optimism for fools?
07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man

© 2002, The Miami Herald