I came of age in the 1960’s. When I learned American History in high school we read that Lincoln freed the slaves. We didn’t learn about “Jim Crow” or lynching or about how Black Americans were routinely brutalized and killed. The Tulsa Race Massacre was never mentioned. We didn’t learn about “red lining.” American History was my favorite subject. I took enough American history courses in college that it could have been my major. I took the GRE in American History and scored high enough to be awarded 30 credits. I never heard about Emmett Till until a couple of years ago after George Floyd was brutally murdered.
In the summer of 2020 while much of our country was locked down from the Covid-19 pandemic I had the opportunity to be part of course at Houghton University called “Racism and American Christianity.” Our professor was the first black person I ever had in any educational setting in my life. Julian Armand Cook, an ordained Baptist minister and member of Houghton University’s faculty provided us with facts and insights that had been neatly avoided in the first 65 plus years of my education. We read books like “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”, which exposed a telling of American history that had been neatly avoided in my earlier readings. I was appalled at the systematic racist brutality visited upon the black people of the United States and fully condoned by our own federal government until the late 1950’s. One of the most appalling of those hate crimes was the murder of fourteen year old Emmett Till who was visiting his family in rural Mississippi in the summer of 1955.
Emmett’s crime was that he allegedly whistled at a white woman while shopping in a general store. For that transgression Emmett was beaten, brutally murdered and his body dumped in a river weighed down by heavy equipment. Emmett’s killers were acquitted. Sound familiar doesn’t it. This is some of the history that some folks in our country don’t think our children ought to learn. Emmett’s murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and led to some of the civil rights legislation that have been written into law. Unfortunately laws can’t change attitudes and bigotry which all people of color continue to endure in the United States.
This week I had the privilege of watching the movie “Till” which is available from Amazon, YouTube, AppleTV and elsewhere.