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Author speaks on Emmett Till Chicago connection

Posted: January 21 2019 at 01:36 PM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt

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A combined choir of singers from several congregations leads the service in music.

It was a time of reflecting and rejoicing at the Northern Illinois Conference’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. service on Jan. 20 at Faith United Methodist Church in Orland Park, Ill. The service was filled with prayers, music and honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King who would have turned 90 this year. 

The theme of the event was “Emmett Till: The Chicago Connection Then and Now” with guest speaker award-winning author Timothy Tyson. Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was kidnapped, tortured, killed and thrown in the Tallahatchie River in the summer of 1955 after an exchange with a white woman at a country store, links our community to the events that took place in Mississippi and shaped the work of Dr. Martin Luther King. 

“For most of his life, King would use the Till murder as an example of the ‘evil of racial injustice’ preaching about the 'crying voice of little Emmett Till screaming from the rushing waters' in Mississippi,” said the Rev. Myron McCoy who served as the service’s master of ceremonies. “King called it one of the most brutal and inhumane crimes of the 20th century.” 

Tyson shared stories of his family’s long line of preachers, including his Methodist father and uncle who fought against racial injustice in North Carolina in the 1950s. Tyson is a Duke University scholar, University of North Carolina adjunct professor, and historian who specializes in the issues of culture, religion, and race associated with the Civil Rights Movement. 

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Author Tim Tyson shares more on his research for his most recent book which re-examines the murder of Emmett Till.

His most recent book The Blood of Emmett Till reexamines the murder of Till and prompted the FBI to reopen its investigation into the case. Tyson said when his book was released, the media focused on his interview with the white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, who he said admitted after decades of silence that her testimony Till grabbed her and made sexual advances at her wasn’t true, which came as no surprise Tyson added. She told Tyson that nothing Till did "could ever justify what happened to him." But Tyson said more important than Donham’s admission is the book's reporting on how Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement out of Chicago. 

“She had an open casket funeral for the bloated and battered body of her son because she wanted the world to see what they did to her boy,” said Tyson. “She is often described as brave and courageous but that misses one thing about her. She was very politically savvy, she was tough and she wanted to make it count.”

“What they (media) didn’t seize upon (from my book), which was what I thought was the most important thing I discovered, was the protests against the Till lynching and the acquittal of two of the accused murderers had enabled Black Chicago to organize a movement so powerful that it shook the nation and it’s because of Mamie Till-Mobley.” 

Tyson said Mobley’s connections to growing Black community organizers and a national network including United Steelworkers, the NAACP,  and Jet magazine, which published photos from Till’s funeral, contributed to telling the story of what happened to Emmett Till and the rise of Dr. King.

“It helped raise the consciousness of people who could no longer say we can’t just say something we have to do something,” said Tyson.

Several clergy led prayers for anti-racism, an end to gun violence, and those who have given their lives for justice. Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli, who was raised Catholic, spoke about her efforts and support of smart, fair and non-discriminatory criminal justice reform. 

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Caleb Bunton (center), a youth from St. Mark UMC, shares a prayer for the future.

Caleb Bunton, a youth from St. Mark UMC in Chicago, ended the service with a prayer for the future. “We thank you, God, for surely coming days when no person will fear another because we know that God created all people in the diversity of God’s image and every life matters.” Words Rev. King lived by.

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