Weekend of activities connects generations active in the struggle to protect Black lives
by Ashahed M. Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
CHICAGO – The horrific murder of 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Louis Till was a pivotal moment in the history of Black people in America.
After reportedly whistling at a White woman, he was kidnapped from his uncle’s home in the middle of the night on August 28, 1955. Three days later, his disfigured body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. There was a bullet hole in his head and a heavy cotton gin fan was wrapped around his neck with barbed wire.
His open casket funeral at the insistence of his courageous mother Mamie Till-Mobley provided the opportunity for many to see the dreadful brutality Blacks in the South faced each and every day. Racist Whites allowed to maim and kill without fear of punishment or retaliation. Images of his badly mutilated body left an indelible mark on the minds of those who saw them, and still act as an emotional trigger until this very day.
This year marked 60 years since he was tortured and lynched near Money, Mississippi, but members of his family made sure his life and the sacrifice of his mother would not be forgotten. Under the theme “Remembering the Past While Educating the Future,” the Mamie Till-Mobley Memorial Foundation sponsored a weekend of events bringing together civil rights era legends, social justice activists, entertainers, philanthropists, and families victimized by racially motivated violence Ms. Mobley died in 2003 at the age of 81.
On Aug. 28—the same day he was murdered in 1955—the family held a ceremony at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, the location where Emmett Till’s funeral was held. There was also a processional, which included motorcycle clubs, to the Burr Oak Cemetery and his gravesite.
Leading figures within Black America’s social justice activist community attended the Legacy Lives Emmett Till Remembrance Dinner later that evening at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. Also present were members of the families of the most well-known cases in which innocent and unarmed Blacks lost their lives due to the actions of law enforcement officers and self-styled vigilantes.
Present was Judge Greg Mathis and Cannon D. Lambert, attorney for the family of Sandra Bland, the Black woman from Naperville, Ill., arrested in Texas and found dead hanging in a rural Texas jail cell. Hip hop activists Jasiri X of 1Hood and Mysonne of the Justice League NYC represented a new generation of artists infusing sociopolitical commentary into their lyrics. Also participating in discussions and offering tributes were Black Lives Matters activists Johnetta Elzie and Erika Totten.
Several parents bound by tragedy spoke at the dinner. At times, not only could they be seen wiping away tears, but some members of the audience were also overcome with emotion. They heard parents share the painful struggle of living life without their children, knowing their lives had been cut short.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; Mike Brown Sr., the father of Mike Brown Jr.; Jackie Johnson, the mother of Kendrick Johnson; Kadiatou Diallo, the mother of Amadou Diallo; Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis; Andrew and Deanna Joseph, the parents of Andrew “Pee Wee” Joseph; Wanda Johnson and Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, the mother and uncle of Oscar Grant; and Larry R. Rogers Jr., a Cook County commissioner, were present. Popular radio host Cliff Kelley of WVON 1690AM served as the emcee for the evening program.
Trayvon Martin’s mother said there is pain in her heart each day she thinks about her son Trayvon. Despite the pain, she feels compelled to fight for justice.
“I thank God for Mamie Till-Mobley,” said Ms. Fulton. “I too am a mother of a deceased teenager and although I have my good days and my bad days, I carry that pain with me each and every day,” she added.
“I have to continue to fight because people don’t quite understand how serious this movement is and how serious this thing is. One day you could be in your comfortable home with your perfect children and your nice house and your nice car and your nice job and then the next day, your child can be taken away…we’ve got to get serious with this thing!” said Ms. Fulton. “Trayvon is not here to speak for himself therefore, just like Emmett Till’s mother, I’m going to speak for my child! I’m going to speak for my son!”
Kadiatou Diallo told the audience that she learned about Emmett Till in Africa and the strength of Mamie Till-Mobley strengthened people all over the world.
“Many families are here tonight,” Ms. Diallo continued, “we are all connected in one voice to say that we will never rest until we combat injustices everywhere.”
Jackie Johnson talked about the death of her son Kendrick Johnson and the added trauma the family experienced after the investigation began. His brain, tongue, and internal organs were removed. She said when she saw her son, he had been beaten beyond recognition. Like Mamie Till-Mobley, she had an open casket funeral for her son, so the world could see what was done to him.
“If I wasn’t Kendrick’s mother, I would not have even known who my child was. Nobody has been convicted for his murder, no one has even been arrested,” said Ms. Johnson. “They didn’t want that casket open, but we opened it. They wanted the people to leave out the church, but we let the people stay in there to see how evil people can really be,” she added.
Ron Davis, the father or Jordan Davis spoke about the man—Michael Dunn—who fired 10 bullets into the car with Jordan Davis and his friends. According to Mr. Davis, Mr. Dunn was so cold-blooded and callous, after the shooting, he went to a hotel, ordered pizza, had an alcoholic drink, and walked his dog as if nothing happened.
“Jordan Davis, forever 17, was the future of our family,” said Mr. Davis. “The young man was in a car with his buddies at a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla., playing his music loud, hip hop, rap music and this, this White supremacist—call it what it is—decided it was thug music. The new ‘n’ word is thug,” he said.
“At the end of the trial, this man—when they showed another picture of my son—he couldn’t even identify Jordan Davis. He doesn’t even know who he pumped three bullets into and didn’t want to call Jordan Davis a victim,” said Mr. Davis.
Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, shared poignant words. Through tears, told attendees the wounds from the loss of her 28-year-old daughter are still fresh and she sang the praises of Atty. Cannon Lambert.
“I’m tired of talking, I’m tired of crying, but I’m not tired of fighting,” said Ms. Reed-Veal. “I have been holding it in for a while. You all don’t see the tears at home, but I have the best attorney in the world and he has taken my family and literally walked us through this thing. The wounds are still wide open,” she added.
She described the pain of driving up on a street corner and seeing a vendor hawking a shirt with her daughter’s image on it and told those claiming to want justice for Sandra Bland to be serious about it.
“I say to all of you, to those of you who stand and say ‘I’m Sandra Bland,’ don’t say it if you are not going to do anything,” she said.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the dinner, however, he had been suffering from an illness and Dr. Ava Muhammad, the national spokesperson for Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam spoke in his place.
Through Dr. Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan said:
“I want to express my deep, deep pain and a wound that has not gone away in sixty years. I was a young minister when my little brother was murdered. But also express the joy in my heart and the exceedingly great love that I have for his mother Mamie Till-Mobley and her steadfastness until the day she passed from this Earth, to get justice for her son,” Min. Farrakhan’s statement continued. “The comfort to all of us who mourn the loss of our loved ones at the hands of a brutal beast is that justice is present now. The Great Mahdi, God in Person is present to set justice in the Earth and to set down every tyrant. All of those who are deserving of retributive justice will be paid in full, and all of those who are in the place of the mercy of God to be forgiven for our shortcomings, will receive the full measure of God’s mercy, but to avail ourselves of his forgiveness, his grace and his mercy, we must immediately repent of our own evil, and change our pattern of behavior, otherwise, we will share in the chastisement due to the Satanic people who have earned destruction. May Allah comfort us and give us peace,” his statement concluded.
In comments lasting about 45 minutes, Dr. Muhammad showed the “depraved indifference” White people have shown towards Blacks has reached a point where Whites have to be clearly identified as an “open enemy” in order for Blacks to work on the many issues keeping them divided.
“We have to stop the violence yes, but before we can even work together as a family, we’ve got to deal with a natural enemy that is attacking us every day,” said Dr. Muhammad. “We must never just lie down and surrender the gift of life from God unless we are giving our lives to serve God. We have no life beloved, to throw our lives away and we have no right to allow anyone to take our lives away except the one who gave it to us,” she added.
She said fear of Muslims and anti-Islamic sentiment in America is growing because the Holy Qur’an, the book of Islamic scripture teaches that if attacked, one is to “fight with those who fight with you.”
“We are prohibited from acts of aggression, but we are instructed to fight when we are attacked. The Holy Qur’an reads there is life for you in retaliation. Retaliation by definition is the return of like for like,” said Dr. Muhammad. “Now because Minister Farrakhan is telling our children and our elders that if the federal government continues to turn its back on us and will not step up to protect us from this slaughter, we will have to protect ourselves! Now he’s being accused of trying to start a race war—we’ve been at war for 500 years we’ve just never fought back and that’s over with!” Dr. Muhammad added.
The most logical solution when people cannot get along in peace is to separate, however, many people have a misunderstanding regarding those calling for it, she said.
“Separation from your tormentor is not hate. This is about freedom, justice, and equality,” said Dr. Muhammad.
Seminars, film screenings, and performances to educate, engage, and empower youth were held Aug. 29 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago’s campus.Leading social justice activist and #JusticeOrElse co-convener Tamika D. Mallory moderated a panel discussion titled “60 Years After Till … Justice Or Else!”