Let the World See

Content Warning: Racial injustice and violence

Emmett Till’s funeral was 67 years ago Tuesday. He would have been 81 this year.

Only 14 at the time, his death* in 1955 was a flash point in the Civil Rights Movement. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket, to “let the world see” what had been done to her son. From his death until hers in 2003, she was an activist for racial justice, with a special interest in education. She died shortly before her memoir, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America, was published.

Till, directed by Chinonye Chukwu, releases this fall (at the New York Film Festival and then widely on October 28th) and tells the story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s relentless pursuit of justice for her son. Centered on her, the film broadens the focus of depictions to-date to include her story, to hold space for some of the effects of racialized violence on Black women.

Theatrical depictions of historical events draw attention to those events and are sometimes the first time someone learns of it. Feature films are dramatizations of events and, as such, are an opportunity for learning. Read on for ways you can learn more about Emmett Till and his family’s fight for justice.

The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center (a Smithsonian Affiliate) in Chicago is a train ride away and will soon host the traveling exhibit “Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See.” Premiering at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis on September 17th, the exhibit will travel across the country. While at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC, it will be less than a mile from the National Museum of African American History & Culture, where Emmett Till’s casket is on display as part of the “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876-1968” exhibit. The Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Mississippi is another opportunity for interactive learning.

Cowritten by Keith Beauchamp of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and Michael Reilly, this new film joins the ranks of videos and audio recordings drawing attention to Till’s murder and pursuits of justice for him. American Experience: The Murder of Emmett Till includes 36 interviews with Mississippi residents, Till family members, journalists covering the trial, and Till’s classmates. The interviews were recorded and transcribed in 2003 by Firelight Media. These videos and others are accessible through Academic Video Online (AVON).

For a more private opportunity to learn about the case, browse some of the books available through Ames Library.

Disturbing and challenging content is hard to face. Movies like Till help to keep stories of injustice in our collective memory. If this movie, or any move with a “based on real events” description piques your interest, Ames librarians and the research tools and collections available through Ames are here to support your pursuit of knowledge.

*Emmett Till’s death was incredibly violent. The Ames Library will not contribute to Black trauma by describing it.

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