Had white supremacists not abducted, tortured and lynched 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955, today he may have been sitting on his front porch in a rocking chair, playing with his grandchildren and preparing to celebrate his 79th birthday next week on July 25.
The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of the violent persecution of Blacks in the U.S. But for Blacks it was nothing new.
As the news of his horrific murder on Aug. 28, 1955, spread across the country, African-American parents reinforced their instructions on survival – an essential rite of passage for all Black children — warning them of an omnipresent danger that thrived in America’s soil and could end their lives at any moment.
It was a centuries-old sickness, parents told their little ones, often passed on from one generation to another called racism. But the best Black parents could do was to instruct their children to always be on their guard lest they meet the same tragic end that young Emmett did.
Generations later, parents still have “the talk” with their young boys and girls, even though they may have replaced the name “Emmett” with another, like “Trayvon,” for example. Trayvon Martin had the misfortune of crossing paths with a man who, while he was not white, believed that as a white Hispanic, he was still higher up the totem pole of color than the 17-year-old Black youth.
White privilege with all of its rights was still within George Zimmerman’s reach – or so he believed. Thus, feeling empowered, he confronted the youth, fought with him and murdered him.
How dare this intruder attempt to “walk while Black” in his precious, Floridian cul-de-sac?
The names continue to change. But sadly the epilogues remain hauntingly familiar.
We’d like to believe that Emmett, Trayvon and thousands of other lynched Black boys and girls now rest in peace. But sometimes, it’s almost impossible to believe.
And so, Black parents continue administering lessons of survival to their children, all the while wondering, “how long?”