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tv   Dave Tell Remembering Emmett Till  CSPAN  October 21, 2022 11:33pm-12:48am EDT

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oh, they tragic life of emmett till. whose 1955 murdo has been described as giving rosa parks the strength to sit down. and martin luther king jr. the courage to stand up. this is one of our great lives presentations in conjunction with the universities celebration of black history month. i'd like first to thank our program sponsor aes corporation for their generous support of great lives it is this kind of support that's so crucial in making a serious possible as a public service to our community. now speak of this evening is university of kansas professor. dave tell.
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author of the 2019 book titled remembering emmett till which will be available for sale and signing in the foyer at the conclusion of tonight's program. dr. tell who has a doctorate from penn state. has one numerous awards for both research and teaching. his research focuses on issues of race memory and the digital humanities since 2014 he has focused in particular on the legacy of the murder of emmett till. in which endeavor he has been a long time partner with emmett till commission of tallahatchie county. his work has a strong public dimension. his scholarship is written for broad public audiences and he has worked extensively with the tel memorial commission to develop resources with which to convey the story of tillamera for the next generation.
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in addition to his work on emmett till dr. tell continues to publish on the history of rhetoric and in particular it's intersection with modern architecture. here's a prolific public speaker since 2014. he has given nearly 50 public talks on the legacy of the till murder bringing that story to jail's high school's detention centers public libraries town halls local bookstores and elite universities across the country including tonight. i'm happy to say the university of mary washington. it's a pleasure indeed to welcome to the great lives podium, dr. dave tell. good evening. thanks to bill for that introduction. thanks to ali for all the help getting here. you'll hear at the university of mary washington have an amazing lecture series. and it's an honor to be a part
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of it. on august 28th 1955 emmett till passed from a life of joyful obscurity to a death of undrmed fame. if the reverend wheeler parker were here with us tonight. he would remind us that before till was an icon or a martyr. he was also. a boy and a jokester reverend parker is a cousin of emmett till his childhood best friend and the last living i witnessed to both the abduction and the murder and he was also for all things emmett till related my true north you might have heard reverend parker tells story on abc last month and if you did. you heard him talk about the fun-loving bicycle riding boy. that was the young till and you
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also. heard him talk about the sheer terror. of being in the unlit sharecroppers cabin in the dark hours of the mississippi night. when two of till's killers went through the house bed to bed pausing to interrogate parker. before finding till in the next room it's important to start with reverend parker because most of us. especially me. only no till as an icon. the boy who's lynching inspired a generation and launched a movement. we know him as a story that pushed rosa parks into action as a tortured body on the pages of jet magazine or as a turning point in the life of john lewis. we know as his mother mamie till mobley has said that he did not die in vain. but if the reverend parker were
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here tonight, he would remind us that for all we know about till since 1955. we have lost the joyful obscurity of those first 14 years. and so in what follows i'm going to give you a glimpse into the long and dramatic afterlife of emmett till. my talk is not so much a biography of the boy. for that you'd need the reverend parker. as it is a biography of his story because for 66 and a half years people have been telling till story. or ignoring it. or bending it. or selling it. you might know what happened to emmett till in 1955 and if you don't it's fine. i'll bring you up to speed. but you might not know that the way you might not know the ways that his story has been suppressed altered and sold. since 1955 suppressed altered and sold those three key verbs
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are at the heart and core of the biography. of emmett till's story because time and again. the chance to make a buck has fueled the outright suppression of the story or the alteration of key details. and so by the end of the evening, i hope you'll agree with me that there is simply no way. to look back at the history of emmett till storytelling and not conclude. that whatever else until story might be it has also a commodity a commodity that has been told more for its cash value than for its moral lessons. and i think you'll agree too that the money made on its telling has too often been spent in the service. of white supremacy and so this evening, i'm going to share with you three stories about how till story has been hijacked. and i'll conclude with a small
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glimpse of how the story is being reclaimed. but as i tell these stories, please don't forget that before till was an icon of the movement and before his story was bought and sold. he was a 14 year old kid. who liked bikes? to get us started and to make sure we're on the same page. let me take you back to the summer of 1955 at that time. emmett till was an african-american boy living in chicago in in august of that year. while visiting his cousins in the mississippi delta he whistled that carolyn bryant the 21 year old white shopkeeper. of bryant's grocery and meat market in the heart of the mississippi delta and for that three days later, he was lynched which in this case means he was kidnapped. tortured shot and dropped in a river five days later the body
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was back in chicago where hundreds of thousands of people saw it. among them the photographer david jackson whose picture of the bloated and beaten body rculated so widely. that you can probably picture it in your head even if you've never seen it. three weeks after the photograph two of the murders were acquitted by an all-white jury and three months after the trial martin luther king jr. heard till's story told. from the pulpit of his own dexter avenue baptist church in montgomery and he never forgot it. eight years later on june 23rd. 1963 king was in detroit, and he was still talking. about emmett till and you might recognize his language. king said i have a dream this afternoon that there will be a day when we no longer face the atrocities that emmett till had to face. i have a dream.
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two months later dr. king gave his dream speech a second time. it worked so well in detroit. that he tried it again this time from the steps of the lincoln memorial and when he gave the speech a second time two things happened. first the speech became famous, perhaps the single most famous speech in all of american history, but a second thing happened. the reference to emmett till was cut in the same moment that the speech became the primary document of the civil rights movement till lost his place in that document. now i don't imagine that king cut till. intentionally i kind of think of the dream speech. as a jazz performance. it's a little bit different. every time but intentional or not the erasure of till from the official text of the civil rights movement proved all to
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prophetic because for the remainder of the 20th century till's story was never well told in fact and get this. 49 years and 11 months separate the murder. from the first dollar ever dropped until commemoration in the state of mississippi. in 2005 a local group of citizens in tallahatchie county nine of them white in nine of them black decided that 50 years of silence was intolerable. and so they organized they fundraised. and they use $15,000 of morgan freeman's money to do something that had never been done before they told story on the landscape of the mississippi delta. that is they put up signs. but no sooner. had those signs been put up than they were plagued b vandalism.
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the vandalism was extense. persistent and targeted this was the first sign in mississippi ever to acknowledge. emmett till it lasted a matter of weeks before it was painted. this sign stands i front of bride's grocery and meat market if you could read this writing it would tell you that bryant's grocery and meat market is ground zero of the american civil rights movement. that's debatable nationally, but in mississippi, it's gospel truth in 2017. the sign was defaced with acid. these two aluminum poles stand at grab all landing. we're in 1955 tells body was pulled from the water a sign was er in the spring of 2008 to mark the spot it was stolen so quickly that i don't even have a picture of the pre stolen sign.
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but the nonprofit the emotional memorial commission a group i've worked with they replaced the sign within months and from 2008 to 2016. this sign acmuted 317 bullet holes it was removed in 2016 and replaced by this sign if you're keeping track at home. this is the third sign to mark the spot where til's body was pulled from the water. the first sign was stolen and never recovered. the second was filled with 300 odd. bullet holes this one dedicated in the summer of 2018. do you know how long it lasted? before it too was filled with bullet holes. the answer is 32 days. this picture broke in the summer of 2019. these are three fraternity brothers from the university of mississippiosing with assault rifles. and hunting rifles in front of
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the sign. we'llome back to the vandalism at the end. but for now, i want to note that in 2014 the vandalism became so targeted and so persistent that the emmett till the nonprofit. in tallahatchie county called a two-day summit. on the topic of telling till's story in the context of vandalism the till family was there. the fbi was there. and against all odds i was there. and right before i left i agreed to help the nonprofit make a smartphone app to tell the story of emmett till. our thinking was so simple right if it's easy to shoot a roadside marker in rural tallahassee county. it's more difficult to shoot. a smartphone app and so this launched in the summer of 2019. it's called the emmett till memory project if i can ask of you anything, please download it right every download helps us it's free wherever you get your apps and every download helps us
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make more money to make the next version. and that's on topic because in the summer of 2020 we hired an independent firm to give us feedback on this app and they told us. that our content will spot on but we needed more shine. we need to augmented reality and we needed a better user experience and so for the first time. we've hired professional graphic designers from the rhode island at school of design and we have professional software developers from the south side of chicago and just last week we pitched the till family on the newest version of the emmett till memory project the smartphone app. they gave it the green light which means that the only thing that stands between us and the new app. is a half million dollars that's a significant hurdle, but we're grant writing. and fundraising for it as we speak. as i was researching the app.
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i was driving around the mississippi delta and i kept hearing stories that i had never heard before and that caught me off guard because i had been telling emmett till stories. for over a decade by this point but the stories i was hearing as i drove around were not about the murder per se they were about the story of the murder. and the ways that the story changed over time about who changed it. and to what ends? and these stories bame my book. remembering emmett till is filled with stories about how people have changed the facts of the murder. to benefit themselves financially politically or both and so tonight. all i'm going to do is give you three examples three stories each one about how racism and the pursuit of money are changing the story. we think we know about tells murder.
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i'll conclude by returning once more to the vandalized signs some of the absolutely incredible responses to the vandalism. and a few reflections on what all this emmett till storytelling teaches us. about our own racial climate so the first story is about sunflower county sunflower county, mississippi. the only thing you need to know about sunflower county for this story to make sense is well, two things first. that's hill was killed in sunflower county and second that it is the only county only relevant county in mississippi that has no commemorative investment. there are no plaques no signs. no museums. no memorials. no nothing and that's kind of counterintuitive. you would think. that the murder site gets the premiere commemorative investment, but the opposite. is actually the case. and it didn't just happen that way.
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and this story we'll tell you why it happened. it starts. at 7pm on the night of october 28th 1955. that's two months. after the murder and one month after the trial on that night. the freelance journalist william bradford. huey met with two of the murderers their wives and their lawyers to share a bottle of whiskey and swap stories. you see huey, he's the journalist. he wanted to tell the story of till's murder for look magazine, but the murder was two months in the past and he knew that the only way he could publish yet. another story about the murder was if he had the story from the mouths of the murderers themselves, and so he paid them. he paid the murderers jw milam and roy bryant 3,150 and he paid their lawyers 1,269 and in
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exchange they signed consent and release forms. that looked like this you don't need the fine print, but i wil direct your attention to the bott wre it's signed. by jw lathe murderer these forms were the price of publication. because look magazine refused to print the story unless every named participant. signed a waiver now in letters of october 12 and october 18, william bradford. huey told his editor at look that he knew that four men were involved in the murder and he boasted that he could name them all. but by october 23 he knew that he could only obtain waivers from the two men who had already been tried and were therefore no longer in legal jeopardy. so he rode his boss yet another letter and here. i'm reading quote there were not after all foreman in the abduction and murder party. there were only two. and thus because he could only
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obtain two consent and release forms. the murder party shranked from four people to two people and this would move the murder site. across county lines during the trial. a guy named willie reed a sharecropper testified for the prosecution that the murder happened in this barn near the town of drew in sunflower county and this was true. but william bradford huey could not tell the story because the only reason that the murder happened in sunflower county. was that jw milam's brother leslie. their managed the sturtevant plantation on which there was a in sufficiently isolated. for the purposes of the night. but leslie milam had not been tried. did not sign a release form and so he could not be implicated. in huey's story and so william bradford huey moved the murder
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site 16.5 miles east to an abandoned spot of riverbank along the tallahatchee river in tallahatchie county. his article came out in january of 1956 and at that time this was an unprecedented geography. because huey was the first person. to suggest a two county version of the murder in which till was kidnapped in lafleur county. before being killed andposed of in tallahatchie county theues tive easy to track. just have to follow the b's story that is before january of '56 maps of's. note that there are three counties sunflower county is in blue and the barn is clearly. identified the amazing part is what happened after huey's story was published in january of 1956.
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every single map of the murder published between 1956 and 2005 including this one from 1963 this one from 1988 and this one from 2010 placed the murder in tallahatchee county and left sunflower county off the map entirely. now who cares? when i met till's cousins, simeon wright. the late swimming right in 2014. he told me it doesn't really matter where till was killed. what matters. is that till was killed for being the wrong color at the wrong time in the wrong place and until his passing mr. right refused to travel to sunflower county and as you can see here in 2010 when he published his own account of the murder. he left sunflower county. off of his map i get his point. we don't want to get so lost in
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the minutia of the murder that we forget the basic issue. of racism but the only reason that sunflower county was eliminated from the itinerary of till's lynching was to protect white murderer leslie milam from prosecution. and so when i focus on the question of where till was killed i'm not trying to evade the all-important question of race. i'm trying to suggest that racism has infected more of this story than we have ever. acknowledged even these maps are products of racism. why because claiming that till was killed in tallahatchie county is another way of saying that only two men were guilty and both of them faced a jury of their peers and although none of that is true. for those who visit the delta it remains all too easy to think that till was killed in tallahatchie county because to this day tallahatchie county is packed with memorials while the
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murder site sits unmarked on private property on the premises of a local dentist. that's that's it for story number one, but can you see? how racism and the pursuit of profit are shifting the story of till's final night for 50 years every single map was wrong. because look magazine would only pay huey if he had release forms from the people he named in his story. all right. the next story is about brands grocery in meat market and the town of money, mississippi. this is where emmett till whistle and this i what the building looked like. at the time of the murder in august of 1955 the years.
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have not been kind to brian's grocery and so before i tell you the story, i just want to click through some images. this is the building in the 80s. the 90s the 2000s it was hurricane katrina thatook. the roof of brant's groce in a story sized portion of its north wall. this is the fall of 2017 the winter of 2018. and this is one of my favorites from 2011. if you remember that sign i showed you in the beginning the one that was scrubbed with acid. i told you that sign claims that this building is ground zero of the civil rights movement, isn't it a little bit odd? that the building marked as
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ground zero of the civil rights movement would be allowed to fall into ruin. it didn't just happen that way it was intentional and this is the story. of how ground zero of the movement fell into ruin although you can't tell by looking. in 2011 the town of money. that's the name of the town. it's a weird town money, mississippi the town of money in 2011 was the beneficiary of a 206,000 mississippi civil rights historical sites grant the grant went not to bryant's grocery and meat market the only site in town with the civil rights history. rather it went to ben roy's service station. a long shuered house and canopy styleulf station that sits precisely 67 feet south of
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the crumbling grocery because bryantwas crumbling. and because ben roy's had a covered portico the grant application reasoned. the gas station had become a default lecture site from which tourists could gaze at the grocery and learn their civil rights history the application put its case for civil rights dollars like this, and i'm reading now. quote it is very likely that the events the transpired at bryant's grocery were discussed. underneath the front canopy. of the adjacent gas station and quote and with nothing more than that the mississippi department of archives and history gave $200,000 earmarked for civil rights to the restoration. of ben roy's the restoration was completed in 2014 and it is beautiful. but it makes no reference to emmett till civil rights history
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or the building to its north. the original gas pumps have been reinstalled eiving quarters in the back. have been well appoiednd ben roy is now stands as a charming nostalgic period piece they reminder or perhaps better a vision. of what day-to-day life and the mississippi delta mig have looked like had racism not course through every facet of that life. but these were civil rights dollars. and the grant was funded by the memory of till's murder. let me put this to you as plain as i can if and until had not been killed this building. would still be a ruin making matters even more complex ben roy's service station and bryant's grocery are both owned by the same family the tribbles and this raises an interesting question. why was a mississippi civil rights historical sites grant? invested in a period piece with
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no civil rights history rather than a civil rights historical site, especially when such a site is next door. owned by the grantees there are three answers to this question in all of them. i imagine. contain a measure of truth first. there's the issue of finances. the entirety of ben roy's was restored for less than a third. of what it would have cost simply to stabilize the grocery store because once you lose a roof things get a lot more expensive so maybe it was just a better deal. second and this is where it gets sticky. the grantees annette morgan and harry tribble are the children of ray tribble. an unrepentant juror from the emmett till trial after the trial the elder tribble became a massively successful farmer bought everything in the town of money except the baptist church
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and was an active member in the local democratic party until his dying day. he never lost his convictions that the murderers were innocent and the body was planted. by the n-double-a-cp his children the current owners of bryant's grocery seem unwilling to allow the crumbling store to be turned into a monument to their father's complicity in allowing. myeloma bryant to walk free. at least not for anything less than six figures. third and this is what i want to focus on nostalgia, or maybe whiteness knowledge is a better word. the restoration of ben roy's tells a story about the delta at mid-century. it's a story of a simpler time. characterized by a leave it to beaver goodness. it's a vision of the past that acknowledges the fact of segregation.
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but not the violence of racism. it's a story. of interracial harmony so profound that it's hard to imagine anything like the violence that was visited. on the 14 year old emmett till so here's the story of ben roy's as it's narrated by the tribbles. in their grant application a restored ben roy's the family family wrote quote will allow visitors to step back in time to the summer of 1955 and to rural money, mississippi. at that time ben roy's was not simply a service station. it was also a quote front stoop for the community. a place where locals went for refreshments and conversation. markers of racial hierarchy would not be totally absent from the restoration on the north side of the building the family promised that the restrooms
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would once again be marked quote colored and right the colored and white as they were during segregation. the restored building was to become something of a visitor center or a cultural center. these are their words. from which tourists could learn the history of segregation, but the application makes made segregation itself seem rather charming a jukebox once stood on the porch it read and on weekend nights blacks and whites alike gathered to quote shed their work week blues. and enjoy the jukebox. app androids my fear is that ben roy's took civil rights money? and invested it in a period piece designed to evoke nostalgia for racially promiscuous. front stoop saturday nights that never happened. here it's important to remember that the very first businesses
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in the delta to be boycotted during the civil rights movement were white-owned. service stations as early as 1951 before lunch counters bus stations or swimming pools became a thing gas stations were the first lightning rods of black inequality and it is difficult for me to imagine that a front porch. jukebox. could overcome the racial charge attached to them. so don't be fooled by the nostalgia of ben roy's. i don't know. if it ever actually attracted integrated socializers, but i do know. that the gym crow signage that once marked the bathrooms. was never restored without in all honesty that was probably a wise choice, but without these signs the service station contains not a single gesture. to emmett till racial violence or the civil rights movement
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with old fashioned gas pumps and idyllic living quarters filled with americana the restore ben roy's is wholly given over to the nostalgia of mid-century small town life. it's a beautiful building. but it's beauty was funded. by unacknowledged racial violence my next sentence is one that i have had editors cut. but i don't see my editors here tonight. so you get it? i can't even look. at ben roy's without fearing that it might not be the perfect model of what red cap trump supporters might see when they look backwards to a once great america. they see gas stations. and more broadly and entire american infrastructure made possible by economies of race, but unmarked by the legacies of
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violence because leaving the violence unmarked. like ben roy's leaves it unmarked. is the only possible way to hold up mid-century america as a bastion of greatness. and this is the tragic irony of ben roy's. it's restoration was paid for literally by the memory of till's murder, but the finished product sanitizes the racial history of the delta and makes till's murder scene. unlikely can you see how once again? racism and the pursuit of money are changing the story. of till's murder people often ask me. why till's story was so poorly told for so long and there are a lot of answers and a lot of right answers but part of the answer has to be that the story was actively suppressed.
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because suppression is the only accurate way to describe what the tribbles did. with ben roy's service station one more slide here on ben roy's. this is a tweet. from the journalist jehan jones i don't know if you know jahan jones in 2019 when he posted this tweet, he covered the race beat for the huffington post. he now works. for the readout blog on msnbc. here's what you need to know about jahan. he's really smart and his specialty is black history. in 2019 jahan and i traveled to mississippi together. he got there a day before i did. on that day. he visited brian's grocery and he posted this tweet look at it. he says powerful first day in mississippi here is brian's grocery.
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and then he posted a picture of the wrong building. he showed up. and he saw one building in ruin and one building beautifully restored. any thought well if this is ground zero the movement, obviously it must be the restored building, but he was wrong. now to his credit this sign that you see on the left hand side of this tweet that tells the story of bryant's grocery. the sign is 33 and a half feet from each building like it is precisely. in the middle, and you know, why right? even if you don't you know, why because when the county put the sign up they did not want to ask the permission of the tribble family. so they put it on the right of way precisely between the buildings. it was brilliant because it got the sign there, but it put the sign precisely in the middle. and if jahan jones a guy who makes his living telling stories of black history got it wrong. think of how many other people
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must have traveled to this site to pay homage to ground zero of the movement only to take a picture. of the wrong building okay story number three. story number three is about the poverty stricken town. of glendora, mississippi okay, the first thing to say is that glendora is absolutely saturated with memorials the tiny town has five streets. and 18 signs. okay, five streets and 18 signs dedicated to the till story and along with the signs the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the till story. it's called the ethic museum. it stands for the emmett till historic intrepid center.
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now these 18 signs in glendora and the museum. tell a unique version of till story on two counts. first while virtually every 20th century history of till's murder. suggests that the murder is dropped the body in the tallahatchie river the commemorative working glendora suggests that till was dropped into attributary known as the black bayou from a bridge on the south side of tow town according to this account. the bayou then carried till's body frondora three miles to the tallahatchie where was recovered? second well, no historian has been able to say with certainty where the murderers obtained the fan with which they weighed down till's body in the water. the glendora museum claims that
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the fan was stolen from the glendora cotton gin. presumably by elmer kimball. a gin employee and the next door neighbor of confessed murderer jw milam and so at issue here. are the bridge the gin and by extension the complicity of elmer kimball? now will these finer points on till's story may seem like academic minutia? to glendora residents they are matters. so weighty that is sometimes seems as if the very future of their town hinges on where till's body was dropped in the water and with what fan. it was way down. in 2010 the mississippi development authority send a team of economic development experts to glendora and their charge was to devise a plan to rescue the town from poverty.
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but they struggled to find solutions aside. from the unrealistic idea that the town turned the snake infested land along the bayou into quote riverfront property. the development authorities only other proposal was that glendora capitalized? on its connection to the till murder more commemoration. they said would bring more tourists. and more tourists would bring more money. none of this was news to mayor johnny b thomas and at least 2005 the mayor has been promoting a glendora centric narrative of the murder in which til's body was dropped into the black bayou with the fan. from the local gin but unfortunately for glendora the mayor has a powerful antagonist. the mississippi department of archives and history or the mdaah that state agency has
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invested more money. and to emmett till commemoration than any other organization, but they simply do not believe that till was dropped into the bayou or that the fan was stolen from a local gin. and so while the mdah has funded virtually every other till request in the last 20 years. including ben roy's they refused to fund. glendora from the perspective of the mdah glendora's theories may be plausible, but they are not verifiable and because verifiability is a prerequisite for state funding the mayor has one state agency. that's the development authority. telling him to invest until commemoration and another state agency. archives and history fusing to fund his efforts to do so. and so without the support of archives and history mayor
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thomas has gotten creative on september 27th 2005 the united states department of agriculture. awarded a community connect broadband grant to glendora funded at 325,000 the grant was intended to bring broadband internet connectivity to the village of glendora mayor thomas used the usda money to convert the old cotton gin into a computer lab. and that was part of the plan. but after the grant was approved. he fired his contractor hired several members. of his own family and a number of state prisoners to construct the world's first. emmett till museum the emmett till historic intrepid center. which was also located in the gin. although the usda approved the expenses. it does not seem. that they knew that their money was being used to build a museum because in the 600 and 47 pages
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of records preserved by the usda including the application. labor contracts invoices and correspondence the name of emmett till is not once mentioned. after the grant ran out glendora couldn't pay the bills. and the internet service was discontinued the museum on the other hand is still going strong. it's maintained on a day-to-day basis. and this is a mouthful. by the glendora economic and community development corporation. that's a 501c3 founded by mayor thomas and known to locals as jedco. the town has assigned most if not all public business to the nonprofit. jedco pays city workers. it operates 24 section 8 apartments and it operates the till museum. according to public records the public housing funnels about a hundred thousand dollars a year
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of federal hud money. into the nonprofit with this money the nonprofit maintains the apartments pays city workers and critically. subsidizes the till museum in the most literal way possible. it's the poverty of the townspeople keeping the doors of the museum open. it was built with usda money and it is maintained. with hud money and access to both of these pots hinges on poverty. rather than history when i'm in the state capital of jackson a couple hours south of glendora the staff. at archives and history have cautioned me to treat mayor thomas's claims with a grain of salt from their perspective. what matters is the provability of history? and since it's difficult to prove mayor thomas's claims archives and history has chosen
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not to fund, glendora. but the closer you get to glendora the more it seems that poverty matters more. then proveability and this is where mayor thomas shines even without the support of archives and history. he has managed to leverage the poverty of the town to build a museum the very thing that the mda told him he needed but the mdah. refuse to fund now to be sure the historical questions remain unanswered was emmett till actually dropped. from the black bayou bridge was the fan really stolen from the local gin and was elmer kimball involved. perhaps i put money on some of that. but it's neither my place nor my point to weigh in on the truthfulness of these claims. what i want to focus on are the
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ways that poverty and the desperate pursuit of revenue in the mississippi. delta is changing the story. we think we know about till's final night. thomas has been able to leverage the town's poverty to support the museum and the museum in turn. supports glendor's plausible but unverifiable theories of till's murder had glendora been wealthy. there would be little incentive to stick to this version of the story the black bayou bridge would be lost to memory and elmer kimball would rarely appear in the stories of till's final night. brooklyn dora is not wealthy. and it's poverty is reshaping the story of till's murder stories about elmer kimball the glendora cotton gin and the black bayou bridge continue to circulate. sustained and preserved by
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nothing more than the poverty of the town. so that's your three stories. in conclusion kind of a long conclusion, so don't get too anxious. for look magazine journalist, william, bradford, huey and for the tribble family and at times for mayor thomas it seems as if the till story was first and foremost a commodity a story to be told. more for its cash value than for its moral lessons. one of the lessons of this evening. i hope is what happens when stories become commodities. in each case questions of truth have taken aback seat to questions of fundability and the story of till's murder has either been altered. or suppressed but we can't end
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here because the story of emmett till is still being told and it is being reclaimed from the likes. of huey and the tribbles to give you a sense of this. i want to take you back to this sign to the vandalized sign with which we ban it may seem. excuse me. it may seem like an odd place of turn f a sense of hope but the vandalism has spurred some of the most creative and powerful emmett till storytelling. that i've encountered. i don't know who shot these signs. but if i ever meet them. i want to tell them. that it certainly appears that there certainly appears that they intended the vandalism for evil. but look at all the good that has come from it. let me share quickly just three projects that have
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inadvertently, but very directly been launched by the vandalism first. emmett till now has the country's only bulletproof roadside marker it weighs 500 pounds. cost 12,000 sorry 1200 dollars and is made of three-quarter inch. hardened steel now full disclosure if you comb the archives of small, mississippi newspapers, you might well find an op-ed that i wrote back in 2018 arguing that we should not put up a bulletproof sign that instead. we should leave the bullet riddled sign standing i said that because the bullet holes layered on top of till story seemed like a great way. to pull the story into the 21st century because the bullet holes are powerful. affectively charged reminders that we still have not put behind us the racism.
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that cost till his life and i will tell you that as a historian of til's murder one of my deepest convictions is that we must not confine the story of till's murder to 1955. it is a story that is 66 years old and still growing and an honestly the image of till story. on the sign but punctured by bullet holes. it's just a great way to capture the ongoing drama. story i changed my mind. in a conversation with the late erica gordon taylor another cousin of emmett till and she told me well, she agreed first of all, she agreed that it's important to tell the story to pull the story into the 21st century, but she told me that the sign is too violent. that is too traumatizing and triggering to leave it standing there in an innocent feel not knowing who will stumblepon it. iou that argument compelling and so i joined forces with the
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family. i wrote the text. for the bulletproof sign and i spoke at its dedication. and although i came around to replacing. the bullet riddled signs. i never lost my conviction that the old signs. riddled with bullets held important lessons and so shortly after we dedicated the bulletproof sign. i published this op-ed in the new york times. the only thing you need is the title quote put the vandalized emmett till signs in museums and low and behold not long after that. i heard from two amazing curators at the smithsonian. will they michael and nancy burkah and after about a year work? reckoning with remembrance opened in flag hall the grand mall se entrance of the national museum of american
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history one of the first questions a lot of people ask me abt this exhibit is why is it here? because if you know your smithsonian landscape, you know that right next door to the national museum of american history. is the national museum of african-american history and culture, so so why isn't this there? a couple reasons first they have a till exhibit and it's amazing right so they don't need another one. but more than that. the smithsonian knows the demographics of their visitors they know. that people go to the african-american museum to see a certain side of american history and those who don't want that side of american history come to the sort of they come to the american history museum which tends towards the patriotic and the sort of the rah-rah go america, right as you can see in the background of this picture with the 200 foot rendition. of the betsy ross flag but i got to say i love that they put this sign. in the entrance to flag hall
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because it when it was her it's moved to a different place now, but when it was in flag hall it was impossible to walk into the museum and see either. the star-spangled banner in the background or the emmett till sign in the foreground without also seeing the other thing is as if to say both of these are parts of american history and that seems super smart. to me i got to go for the dedication. this is my daughter on the left the reverend wheeler parker till's cousin onhe right. is the reverend willy williams the co-chair of the cmission that put up the signs? this fall september 17th a second major museum exhibition is going to open that features. a bullet riddled sign like the
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smithsonian the indianapolis children's museum created an tire exhibit around one of the bullet riddl signs. and this one is a traveling exhibit after it opens in indy. it's going to go to birmingham jackson, mississippi. it's going too to the dusable in chicago and to the atlanta. history center i can't wait. so what do we learn? from all of this after 50 years of silence an interracial group of citizens joined forces. to put up signs the signs were then stolen replaced. shot replaced again shot again and replaced again. every time local citizens took it upon themselves to tell till's story on the landscape of the mississippi delta vandals got their guns and transformed markers of the black experience.
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into yet one more reminder of white supremacy unbowed by this violence the smithsonian and the indianapolis children's museum are transforming these signs once again by contextualizing the signs. they are using them to tell a new story about racism that stretches from 1955 to the present day in these exhibits. the sign making citizens of tallahatchie county, mississippi. join mamie till mobley as the heroes of till's story when we remember that mamie till mobley opened her son's casket letting the world see what racism had done to her bike riding boy? it is not difficult to understand the sign building. and the sign replacing of tallahatchie county as a fulfillment of her dream so,
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what's the lesson here? as i tell my students. at the university of kansas memorials are the new lunch counters? in the 1960s lunch counters were iconic sites of racial agitation and for a moment. they were prized number one. and the fight for civil rights? it was at a lunch counter that bernard lafayette elmira gray and mary ann morgan had detergent. poured down their backs it was at a lunch counter that john lewis and james bevel were nearly suffocated. it was at a lunch counter where john salter was attacked with brass knuckles where joan trumpauer and in moody were attacked with condiments and where memphis norman was beaten. while the jackson police looked on now hear me out on this one.
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don't you think that kind of like the lunch counters of old memorials have become new public sites of racial confrontation. just as memphis norman was once beaten at a lunch counter while the police looked on. in 2017. heather higher was killed just down the road in charlottesville at a memorial. well trump looked on. later proclaiming that there were very fine people on both sides. and charlottesville was exceptional only. in its death toll in the past year and change memorials have become protest sites in richmond. saint paul, washington dc chapel hill, birmingham saint augustine bentonville, oxford, dallas raleigh, san diego and seattle from the gulf of mexico to the canadian border and from the atlantic to the pacific. memorials have emerged as the new go-to sites.
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of racial activism if memorials sorry if memorials have become the litmus test. of our racial politics. it's because they are our public storytelling venues. parx salons they force us to confront basic questions about our past. what stories? and whose will be dignified in public space what stories and whose will become part of the built environment and part of the unquestioned background against which we live our lives. and what stories and who's will be subsidized by tax dollars transmitted by the landscape and preserved by the tenacity of granite bronze and marble. and so when i say that memorials are the new lunch counters, i just mean that the stories we tell. or don't tell about the american
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past are now on the front lines of the fight. for racial justice so let's end with a tribute. to these boys tyler yarbrough and curtis hill recent graduates from the university of mississippi students who would not let vandals have the last word who marched tough their campus with this sign and conducted a silent prost. at the base of monument to which they objecd. the fact that the police dispersed their protest after five minutes does not take away from the fact. that this might be the perfect age of our current racial climate. look at this picture. and consider what we see here at the most abstract. we see a fight over who's history is told in public and more precisely.
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we see the story ofill's murder in white letters on a purple background punctted by bullet holes framed by the confederacy but reclaimed by these students and we can also learn something about the condition of telling black stories in this instance alone till story. had to confront a landscape that valorizes white history. it had to confront bullets and it had to confront the police and if we brought in our perspective a little bit more until story had to confront people like william bradford huey and the tribble family who were only too happy to alter or suppress the story if it meant lining their own pockets against all these odds, i think we need to count tyler yarbrough's and curtis hills short protest. as a win just think of what the till story had to come through to get to this point.
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finally, this is an image of what the fight for racial justice can look like in the 21st century. it's a fight over what stories we tell in public. that's it. and thank you very much. time today well now we'll take some questions off of the audience of your raise your hand. kelly find you and stand as a question. we'll take as many as the cap. finished my question is she said to lived in chicago and came south hollarini. memorial's road signs, etc, etc in chicago back here by the
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state yes is the answer to your question chicago has always been ahead. of mississippi in the task of commemorating the murder so there is an emmett till school in chicago. there's an emmett till bridge the a home where he lived in downtown chicago in 1955 is currently vacant but there is work a foot to reclaim it. the home where he grew up as a kid next to wheeler parker, which is about a baseball throw west of not o'hare with the small airport. midway about a hair west. it's a baseball throw from midway. that home is no longer there, but the site is there and it's now paved with bricks and you can buy these bricks and memorial and there's a sign there and about a block away from that is the emmatoma is a chicago version of an emmett till memorial center. so the short answer is yes, chicago has always been ahead
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and one of the brand new new developments really in 2019-2020. is that the family in chicago? has really an unprecedented ways joined forces with the non-profit. in mississippi to connect the commemorative work going on in chicago to the commemorative work being developed. in mississippi, there is even and you can sign this petition online. a current project created what's the word here? a discontinuous national park with sites in both chicago and mississippi dedicated to the memory of emmett till and i even think you can check me on this. i'm pretty sure the secretary of the interior was there last week to start start scouting these sites. the person to speak out on normal situation. you talking about brian's
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grocery? yes. so the question was how long has it taken? i think you're asking about the tribble family the owners of the grocery. they have never spoken out. they as you might imagine it's in their best interest to be a very reserved and quiet family, but they are a very reserved and quiet family. the only triple i've spoken with personally is two generations removed and so i racism is not entirely generational, but it's partly generational. and so i do have hopes that as the years go by and there are things in the works right now to try and get this building right? there's there are like carrot tactics and there are stick tactics to try and a save bryant's grocery, but it will happen in spite of the tribbles not through the agency of the triples. you kind of like liberty to this.
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to my thought i'm not sure if i can turn into a question while trying we frequently talk about events like this the part of black history and i think that's unfortunate because it's a large part of white history also in our white america's inability to come to terms to reconcile. our own actions it's just something i keep thinking about. i'm not sure. i don't know. i'd say something more about that. yeah, no, great. that's helpful. actually, i because i think a better term and i mean i use these terms but a better term for rather than black history or white history a better term would probably difficult history. right it's important to teach. difficult history, and it's you know what difficult history is under attack these days think of like the legacy or the sort of think of the 1619 commission or the 1776 where the response was, right?
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it's it's terribly important that we teach. difficult history right now and that's what the smithsonian is trying to do so kudos to them. and i'm scared. what was going on in the 70s and 80s and 90s when all these people weren't talking about him until and what occurred in. that now here we are seven years later. we have tv shows and movies and books in your book and other people's books. what what grow? what was the catalyzing event? and what were people doing for 30 40 years? i'm talking about it at all. it's it's hard to explain what people don't talk about right? so if you want if you're into sort of the internet, what do they call like engram things where you try and like track the frequency of words over time and if you track and until it is like statistically verifiable that in the 60s 70s 80s and 90s
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virtually. no one is talking about emmett till, right the fact that we live in a culture right now that puts emmett till up front that i mean abc last month ran this massive. documentary and screenplay, this is an anomaly. 60s 70s 80s there were some people talking but these people were mostly artists in all honesty poets dylan right songwriters were thinking about the tilt story through the latter decades of the 20th century. here's a lesson though. so i'm from kansas city lawrence. kansas city is an emmett till town. i can explain that if you're interested and so like every time a big till thing comes out, there's a big event in downtown kansas city and some years ago when devery anderson's book came out. he came to kansas city and he did a big talk with alvin sykes at the downtown. branch of the public library in kansas city a venue. perhaps not quite this big but
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almost it was it was packed. at the end of the lecture an elderly white gentleman stood up and said, how come i never heard the stories? i was i was growing up in the 60s 70s and 80s and no one was talking about it. a party on the stage never even got to respond because before they could begin to answer the question that elderly african-american gentleman stood up and said i've been living with this story my entire life it was drilled into me when i was five years old and i got reminders on an annual basis. right, and so one of the things i learned from that experience. is that sometimes when it seems like till story is gone underground like for those 49 years and 11 months when the state spent zero dollars. that doesn't mean no one's talking about it. it just means that they're not talking about it in public. and one of the reasons people don't talk about the till story
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and public is because for years it was considered. what's the scandalous is not quite subversive. it was considered like subversive to the extent that you know what? you know how people the mississippi delta learned of the till story. that's the the news traveled north to chicago when it got to chicago it hit the media juggernaut of johnson publications who put it in. sorry the chicago defender the chicago defender the black the black newspaper chicago was then smuggled on the illinois central railroad back into mississippi so that people 10 miles from where the murder site happened could read about the murder and learn about it for the first time by a papers that have been smuggled in from chicago and one of the things i learned from that anecdote is that this was a subversive story. right if you were to go up and ask one of these people, do you know the story of emmett till? even if they did they would say? no, right because you had to smuggle this stuff in. it was stuff you guarded.
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i mean think of the if you've read the the biography of the activist and moody. she talks about learning the story of emmett till, but never talking about a publicly right all this stuff begins to complicate. what what happened in those decades? i know that's a long-winded answer joseph. thank you. other professors carry over here you've been in a relationship with emmett till now for more than a decade. how has emmett changed? that's a hard question and it's actually a common question, too. the easy way to answer it is to
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say that i did not. take up till story because i was an advocate for racial justice. i became an advocate for rachel justice. because i took up till story. i often tell people. in fact, i might even told you guys tonight that when i started making this app. i thought it was going to be a part-time job. i was going to write a book on architecture truth be told that never happened. but it became a vocation and occasionally, i describe it as a calling. right this story really captured my life and one of the reasons i include that photograph of my daughter and i in the smithsonian is to give people a sense that it's it's not. it is a job. and i'm not unaware of the fact that i get paid for my job of being a professor. right, but it has become more than a job. right? it's sort of seeped into not just my life, but to my family's life. right, and i wish honestly, i wish both my kids could be heref
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the big 1862 round table. my name is manisha sinha, and i'm the draper chair in american history at the university of connecticut, and i will be sharing and moderating this round table. also


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