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tv   Dave Tell Remembering Emmett Till  CSPAN  May 30, 2022 2:45pm-4:01pm EDT

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oh, they tragic life of emmett till. welcome to tonight's lecture on the tragic life of emmett tell. it was 1955 him, has been described as given rosa parks the strength to sit down, and martin lurking junior the courage to stand up. this is one of our great lives presentation, with the
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university celebration of black history month. i'd like first to thank the program sponsor abs corporation for the generous support. it's this kind of support that so crucial and making the series possible as a public service to our community. our speaker this evening is university of kansas professor dave tell, 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. doctor tell, who has a doctorate from penn state, has one new was around for both research and teaching. his research focuses on issue of race, memory, and the digital humanities. since 2014, he has focused in particular on the legacy of the murder of emmett till.
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in which he has been a long time partner with emmett till memorial commission of tallahatchie county. his work has a taunt strong public dimensions, scholarship is written for broad public audiences, he's worked extensively with the tally memorial commission to develop resources which to convey their story of till's murder for the next generation. in addition to his work on emmett till, doctor tell continues to publish on the history of rhetoric and particular its intersection with modern architecture. he has a prolific public speaker since 2014, he's given nearly 50 public talks on the legacy of the till murder, bringing that story to jails, high schools, 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 great --
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dave tell. [applause] >> good evening, thanks to bill for that introduction, thanks to ali for all the help getting here. you hear at the university of mary washington, have and it amazing lecture series. it's an honor to be part of it. on august 28th, 1955, emmett till passed from a life of joyful obscurity to adav of untrimmed -- if the reverend wheeler parker were here with us, he'd remind us that the foretell wasn't ike on, or a martyr he was also a boy and a jokester. reverend parker is a cousin of emmett till, his childhood best
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friend, the last living i witnessed about the abduction and murder. he's also for all things emmett till related my true north. you may have heard reverent parker tell till story on abc last month, if you did you heard him talk about the fun loving, bicycle riding boy that was the young till. you 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 kills killers, went through the house bed to bed pausing to interrogate parker until finding tell in the next room. it's important to start with reverend parker because most of us, especially me, only notable as an icon the. boy whose lynching inspired a
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generation and launched a move mid. we know him as a story that puts most 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 maybe till has said, that he didn't die in vain. but if the reverend parker were here tonight, he remind us that for all we know about till since 1955, we've lost the joyful obscurity of those first 14 years. and so, in what follows, i'm giving you a glimpse to the long and dramatic afterlife of emmett till. my top is not so much a biography of the boy, for that you need the reverend parker as it is a biography of his story. for 66 and a half years, people have been telling tells story, or ignoring it, or bending it,
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or selling it. you might know what happened to emmett tell in 1955, 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 the history has been suppressed, altered, and sold since 1955. suppressed, altered and, sold those three key verbs are at the heart and core of the biography of emmett till story time and time again and the chance to make a book has fueled the outright suppression of the story, 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 the till story might be, it's also a commodity, a
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commodity that has been told more for its cash value, then for its moral lessons. i think you'll agree to, the money made on its telling has too often been spent on the service of white supremacy. so, this evening all share with your three stories about how till story has been hijacked, and i'll conclude with a small glimpse of how the stories being reclaimed. as i tell these stories, please don't forget that before tell was an icon of the movement, 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 august of that year, while visiting his cousins in the mississippi delta he
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whistled at caroline bryant, 20 year old white shopkeeper, of bryant's grocery in the heart of the mississippi delta. 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 was back in chicago where hundreds of thousands of people saw it. among them the photographer, david jackson, whose picture of the bloated unbeaten body circulated 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 day unitard tills story told from the pulpit of his own dexter avenue baptist church in montgomery, and he never forgot it.
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eight years later, on june 23rd, 1963, cummings and detroit and he was still talking about emmett till. you might recognize his language. king said, i have a dream this afternoon that there will be a day we know longer face the atrocities that emmett till had to face. i have a dream. 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, 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
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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 are not, the erasure of tell from the official text of the civil rights movement, proved all too prophetic. because for the remainder of the 20th century, till 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 wyatt, nine of them black decided that 50 years of silence was intolerable. so, they organized, they
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fundraised, and they used $15,000 of morgan freeman's money to do something that had never been done before. they told tills stories on the landscape of the mississippi delta. they put up signs, but no sooner had those signs been put up, then they were plagued by vandalism. the vandalism was extensive, persistent, and targeted. this was the first sign of mississippi ever to acknowledge, emmett till, and lasted a matter of weeks before it was painted. this sign stands in front of bryant's grocery and meat market, if you can read this writing, it would tell you that bryan'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 sinus defaced with
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acid. these two aluminum poles, stand -- the site where a 1955, till's body was pulled from the water, assign was erected in the spring of 2008 to mark the spot. it was stolen so quickly, i don't even have a picture of the pre-stolen sign. but the nonprofit, the emmett till morey commission, a group i've worked with they replaced the sin within months. so, 2008 2016 this sign accumulated 317 bullet holes. it was removed in 2016, replaced by this sign, if you're keeping track at home this is the third sign to mark the spot or tills 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
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how long it lasted before it too was filled with bullet holes. the answer's 32 days. this picture broke in the summer 2019, three fraternity brightest -- posing with assault rifles. and hunting rifles in front of the sign, we'll come back to the vandalism at the end. but for now, i want to know that 2014 the vandalism became so targeted and so persistent, the emmett till did not profit in tallahatchie county. it called a two day summit on the topic of telling tales 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 laughed, i agree to help the nonprofit make a smartphone app, to tell the story of emmett till, i
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think it was so simple, right if it's easy to shoot a roadside marker and rural tallahatchie county, it's more difficult to shoot a smartphone app. so, this launched in summer 2018 it's called the emmett till memory project, if i could ask of you anything, please download it. every download helps, it's free, wherever you get your apps, and every download helps us make more money to make the next version. and that's on topic because in the summer of 2020, we hired independent firm to give us feedback on this app. they told us, that our content was spot on, but we needed more shiny, augmented reality, we needed a better user experience. for the first time, we've hired professional graphic designers from the rhode island school of design, we have professional software developers from the south side of chicago. and just last week, we pitch the till family on the newest version of the emmett till
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memory project, the smartphone app. e're grant wr iting. they gave it the green light, which means the only thing that stands between us and the new app is a half million dollars that is a significant hurdle but we are grant writing and fund raising for it as we speak. and as i was researching the app, i was driving around the mississippi delta. i was listening to stories i number heard before. it caught me off guard, i had been telling emmett till stories for over a decade at this point the stories i was hearing other drove around or not about the murder, per se but they were about the story of the murder the. way that the stories changed over time. about who changed it and to what's and. the stories became my book. remembering emmett till is
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filled with stories on how people have changed the facts of the murder. to benefit themselves financially, politically, or both. so tonight all i'm going to do is give you three examples, three stories. each one on how racism in the pursuit of money is changing the story we think we know about emmett till's murder. i will return once more to the vandalize science. the absolutely incredible responses to the vandalism, and a few reflections on what's the emmett till story teaches us about our own rachel climate. the first story is about sunflower county. first story, sunflower county, mississippi. the only thing you need to know for the story to make sense. well, two things. first, till was killed in sunflower county. second, the only relevant county in mississippi that has
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no commemorative investment. no plaque, science, museums, memorials, no nothing! that is kind of counter intuitive. you would think that the murderous i get the premier commemorative investment. but the opposite is actually the case. and it didn't just happen that way. this story, i will tell you why it happened. it starts at 7 pm on the night of october 28th, 1955. that is two months after the murder and one month after the trial. that night, freelance jettison william bradley he met with two of the murders. their wives, and their lawyers, to share a bottle of whiskey and swap stories. he we, he is the journalist. he wanted to tell the story of
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emmett till's murder for look magazine. the murderer two months in the past, he knew the only way he could publish yet another story about the murder if he had the story from the mouths of the murderous themselves. he paid them. he paid them j.w. milan and would bryant $3,150. he paid their lawyers $1,269. in exchange, they signed consent and release forms that looked like this. you don't need to sign print but i will direct your attention to the bottom where it was signed by jay w milan, the murderer. these forms for the price of publication. look magazine refused to print the story unless every named participants signed a waiver. and letters of october 12th and october 18th, william bradford huey told his editor that he knew four men were involved in the murder. he boasted that he could name
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them all. but by october 23rd, he knew that he could only obtain waivers from the two men who had already been tried, and therefore we're in no legal jeopardy. he wrote his boss another letter. quote, there were not after all four men in the abduction and murder party, there were only two. and thus, because he could only obtain to consent and release forms, the murder party shrank from four people to two people. this would move the murder say across county lines. during the trial, a guy name willie reed, a sharecroppers, testified for the prosecution that the murder happened in this barn, near the town of drew in sunflower county. this was true! but, william bradford huey could not tell the story because the only reason the murder happened in sunflower
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county buzz j w. milan's brother, leslie, there manage a plantation on which a barn was sufficiently isolated for the purposes of the night. but leslie milan had not been tried. he did not sign a release form. he could not be implicated in huey's story. so william bradley fewer move the murders that 16.5 miles east to an abandoned spot of riverbank along the tallahatchie river in tallahatchie county >> his article came out in 1956, at time with was an unprecedented geography. he was the first person to suggest a two county version of the murder. kidnapped in the flurry county before being killed and disposed of and tallahatchie county. the influence of his story is relatively easy to track. you just have to follow the maps.
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before huey stories, before january of 1956 maps until's murder looked like this. know that there are three counties. sunflower county's and blue, the barn is clearly identified. the amazing part is what happened after huey story was published in january of 1956. every single map of the murder published between 1956 and 2005, including this one from 1963, this one from 1988, this one from 2010, places the murder in tallahatchie county and left sunflower county off of the map entirely. no, who cares? when i'm phil's cousin the lay simeone right in 2014, he told me it doesn't really matter
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where till was killed. what matters is the till was killed for being the wrong color, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. until his passing mr. wright refused to travel to sunflower county. in 2010 when he published his own account of the murder he left sunflower county off of the map. i get his point. we don't want to get so lost in the minutiae of the murder that we forget the basic issue of racism. the only reason that sunflower county was eliminated from the itinerary of till alleging was to protect murderer leslie mylan of potential prosecution. when i focus on the question of where was killed i'm not trying to evade the all-important question of race, i'm trying to suggest that racism infected even more of the story than we ever acknowledged. even these maps are products of
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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. although none of that is true, for those who visit the delta it remains all too easy that till was killed in tallahatchie county because to this day tallahatchie counties packed with memorials while the murder site sits unmarked, on private property, on the premises of a local dentist. that is it for story number one. can you see how racism and the pursuit of profit shifting the story until's final night for 50 years, every single map was wrong. they would only name releases for people and historian.
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this is where emmett til the next story is about brands grocery in meat market in the town of money, mississippi. this is where emmett till whistled. this is where the building was at the time of the murder in august, 1945. the years have not been kind to bryant grocery. before i tell you the story i just want to click through some images. this is the building in the 80s, 90s, but. it was hurricane katrina that took the roof of bryant's story and i portion of its north wall. and the roof. this is the winter of 2018,
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this is one of my favorites from 2011. if you remember that sign i showed you at the beginning, the one 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 odd that the building marked a ground zero of the civil rights movement would be allowed to fall into ruin? it didn't just happen that way. it was intentional. this is the story, how grounds euro of the movement fell into ruin. now although you cannot tell by looking, in 2011 in the town of money, that is the name of the town, it's that we are town. money, mississippi. it was a beneficiary of a
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206,000 dollar mississippi civil rights historical sites grant. the grant went not to bryant's grocery in meat market, the only site in town with a civil rights history. rather, it went to ben roy service station. a long shuttered how thin canopy style golf station that sits precisely 66 feet south of the crumbling grocery. because bryant was crumbling, and because ben roy's had a cover portico, the grant application reasoned, the gas station have become a default lecture site from which tourist gaze at the grocery and learn their civil rights history. the obligation plead its case for several civil rights dollars like this. i am reading now, quote, it is very likely the events that transpired a brian scores we were discussed under the front canopy of the adjacent gas station. unquote. with nothing more than that the
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mississippi department of archive and history gave $200,000 your mic for civil rights to the restoration of been roy's. the restoration was completed in 2014. it is beautiful. but it makes no reference to emmett till, civil rights history, or the building for which it -- the original gas pipes have been re-installed. the living quarters in the back of him well appointed. ben roy now stands at a charming nostalgic period piece. a reminder, a nostalgic vision of what day-to-day life in the mississippi delta might have been look like had racism not coursed through every facet of that life. 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 emmett till had not been
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killed this building would still be a ruin. making matters even more complex, ben roy service station and bryant grocery are both owned by the same family, the troubles. this raises an interesting question. why was a mississippi civil rights historical site grant invested in a period piece with no civil rights history rather than a civil rights historical site, especially when such a sight is next door? owned by the grantees? there are three answers to this question, all of them i imagine, contain a measure of truth. for us there is the issue of finances. the entirety of ben roy's was restored for less than a third for what it would have cost simply destabilize the grocery store. once you lose a ruth things get lot more expensive. maybe it was just a better
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deal. second, and this is where it gets sticky the grantees in morgan and harriet trouble are the children of ray trouble, and unrepentant juror from the emmett till trial. after the trial, the elder trouble became a massively successful farmer. bought everything in the town of money except for the baptist church. he was an active member in the local democratic party, until his dying day he never lost his conviction that the murderers were innocent and the body was planted by the naacp. his children, the current owners of bryant grocery seem unwilling to allow the crumbling stored to be turned into a monument in his father's complicity and allowing miles and i'm brian to walk free. at least not for anything less than six figures. and this is what i want to
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focus on, nostalgia or maybe, white nostalgia is a better word. the restoration of ben roy's tells a story about the delta mid-century. it is a story of a simpler time characterized by leave it to beaver goodness. it is a vision of the past that acknowledges the fact of segregation. however, not the violence of racism. it is a story of inter racial harmony so profound that it is hard to imagine anything like the violence that was visited on the 14 year olds emmett till. here is the story of ben roy's as it is narrated by the troubles in their grant application. it will allow visitors to step back in time into the summer of 1955 into rural money
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mississippi. at that time it was a front stoop for the community. a place where locals went for refreshments and conversation. markers of racial hierarchy were not opposite of the restoration. the family promised that the restaurants marked colored and white as they were during segregation. the mustard building would become a cultural center, to use their words. from which tourists could learn the history of segregation but the application made segregation itself seem rather -- it read, on weekend nights blacks and whites alike gather to shed their work week blues and enjoy the jukebox.
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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 is important to remember the very first businesses to be boycotted during the civil rights movement were white on civil -- as early as 1951 before but stations and swimming pools became a thing, gas they shuns were the first lightning rods of black and equality and it is difficult for me to imagine that a front porch jukebox could overcome the racial charge attached to them. don't be fooled by the nostalgia of ben roy's, i don't know if it ever actually attracted integrated socializes
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but i do know that the jim crow signers that once marked the bathrooms was never restored. in all honesty that was probably a wise choice but without the signs the service station contains not a single gesture to emmett till, racial violence, or the civil rights movement. with old fashioned gas pumps and ideally living quarters filled with americana the restored then roy's is given over to the nostalgia of mid century, small town life. it is a beautiful building but its beauty was founded by an acknowledged 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
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without fearing that it might not be the perfect model of what red cap trump supporters might see when they look towards a great great america. they see an entire american infrastructure made possible by economies of race but marked by the legacies of violence because leaving the violence on marked like then roy's leaves it unmarked is the only possible way to hold up mid-century america as a bastion of greatness. this is the tragic irony of then roy's, its restoration was paid for literally by the memory of till's murder but the finished prospect sanitizes the racial history of the delta and makes tales murder seem unlikely. can you see how, once again,
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racism and the pursuit of money are changing the story of kills murder? people often ask me why kills story was so poorly told for so long and there is a lot of answers but part of the answer has to be that the story was actively suppressed because suppression is the only accurate way to describe what the tribble's did with ben roy's service station. one more slide here on ben roy's. this is a tweet from the journalist, i don't know if you know him. in 2019 when he posted this tweet, he covered the race before the haunting post, he now works for the readout log on msnbc. here is what you need to know about him.
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he is really smart and his specialty's black history. in 2019 we traveled to mississippi together. he got there a day before i did. on that day he visited bryant's grocery and he posted this tweet. powerful first day in mississippi. here is bryant's grocery, 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 and he thought, well if this is ground zero obviously must be the restored building but he was wrong. to his credit, the sign that you see on the left-hand side that tells the story of bryant's grocery, design is a 33 and a half feet from each building. it is precisely in the middle.
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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. -- it put the sign precisely in the middle. if this journalist, a guy who makes his living telling stories of black history got a wrong, think of how many people must have traveled to decide to pay homage to ground zero of the movement only to take a picture of the wrong building. story number three. story number three is about the poverty stricken town of glenn dora, mississippi.
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the first thing to say is that glendora is saturated with memorials. it has five's street and 18 signs dedicated to the till story. the only museum dedicated entirely to the tail story is called the emmett till center. 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 murders drop the body in the tallahatchie river, they suggest that hill was dropped into a tributary known as the black bayou from a bridge on the south side of town. according to this account, the
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bayou then carried till's body from glendora three miles to the tallahatchie river where it was recovered. second, while no historian has been able to say with certainty where the murder scene obtained the fan with which they weigh down till's body in the water, the glendora museum claim that it was stolen from the -- presumably by this man, a gym employee and the next door neighbor of confessed murder. at issue here are the bridge, the gin, and by extension the complicity of elmer kimble. now, these final points until story may seem like academic minutiae, to glendora residents they are matter so weighty that it seems as if the very future of their town hinges on where
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till's body was dropped in the water and with what fan it was weighed down. in 2010, the mississippi development authority sent a team of economic development experts to glendora and their charge was to devise a plan to rescue the town from poverty but they struggled to find solutions aside from the unrealistic idea that the town turned a snake infested land along the bayou into quote, riverfront property. the development authorities only other proposal was that glendora capitalize on its connection to the till murder. more commemoration would bring more tourists and more tourists would bring more money. none of this was news to mayor johnny b thomas.
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since at least 2005 the mayor had been promoting a glendora-centric narrative of the murder in which till's body was dropped into the black by with a fan from the local gym. but unfortunately for glendora the mayor has a powerful antagonist in mississippi departments archive of history. that state agency has invested more money into 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 gym. so while the organization has founded virtually every other till requests in the last 20 years, they refused to fund glendora. from the perspective of this organization, glen doors theories may be possible but
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they are verifiable. because verify ability is a prerequisite for state funding, the mayor has one state agency, that's the development authority, telling him to invest in commemoration and another state agency, archives in history, refusing to fund his efforts to do so. without the support of archives in history, mayor thomas has gotten creative. on september 27th 2005 the united states department of agriculture awarded a community connect broadband grants to glendora. funded at $325, 000, the grant was intended to bring connectivity to the village of glendora. mayor thomas use the usda money to convert the old cotton gin into a computer lab and that was part of the plan. after the grant was approved he fired his contractor, hired several members of his own
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family and a number of state prisoners to construct the world's first emmett till museum, the emmett till historic center which was also like hated in the gym. although the usda approve the expenses, it does not seem that they knew their money was being used to build a museum because in the 647 pages of records preserved by the usda, including the application, labor contracts, invoices, and correspondents, 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 gland or economic community development corporation.
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founded by our mayor thomas and known to locals as jed co-. the town has a sign that all businesses -- jet to pay city workers, it operates section eight apartments and it operates the kill museum. according to public records, the public housing funnels about hundred thousand dollars a year of federal money into the nonprofit. with this money, the nonprofit maintains the apartments pays city workers and subsidizes detail museum. in the most literal way possible, it is 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. access to both of these pots hinges on poverty.
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when i am in the state capital of jackson, a couple hours south of glenn dora the staff on archive and history have cautioned me to treat the claims about the grain of salt. from their perspective, what matters is the prove ability of history. since it is difficult to prove maritime assist claims, archives and history have proven not to fund blend aura. the closer you get to glen dora, the more poverty seems to matter than prove ability. this is where mayor thomas shines even without the support of our cousin history the very thing that was needed but the same thing that the mgm age refusing to fund. to be sure, the historical
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questions remain unanswered. was emmett till actually dropped from the black bayou bridge. was the fan actually stolen from a local gym? was keller actually involved? perhaps, i would put money on some of that. but it is neither my place nor might point to weigh in on the truthfulness of these claims. but i want to focus on the ways that poverty in the desperate pursuit of revenue in the mississippi delta is changing the story that we think we know about tools final night. thomas has been able to leverage the towns poverty to support the museum. the museum in turn supports glenda are plausible but on verifiable theories of till's murder. had glenn dora been wealthy, they would be little incentive to stick to this version of the story.
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elmer kindle would rarely appeal or in the story of till's final night, the black by bridge will be lost to memory. but gondola is not wealthy. its poverty is reshaping the story of till's murder. stories about elmer candle, the gland or a cotton, and the black bayou bridge continue to circulate. sustained and preserved by nothing more than the poverty of the town. so that your three stories. in conclusion, it's kind of a long confusion so don't get too anxious -- for look magazine journalist william bradford he, and for the trouble family in a time four man thomas, it seems as if the till story is first and foremost a commodity. a story to be told more for its
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cash value than for its moral lessons. one of the lessons of this evening, i hope, it's what happens when stories become commodities. in each case, tristan's of truth have taken a backseat to questions of fund ability. the question of till's murder has either been altered or suppressed. but we cannot and hear, the story of emmett till is still being told. it has been reclaimed from the likes of he, and the troubles. give you a sense of this i want to take you back to the sign the vandalize sign where we began and may see like it on place deterrent for a sense of hope but the vandalism has spurned some of the most creative and powerful emmett till storytelling that i have
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encountered. i don't know who shot these lines, but if i ever meet them i want to tell them that it certainly appears they intended the vandalism for evil, but look at all the good it has come from a. let me share quickly three projects that have inadvertently but very directly been launched by the vandalism. first, emmett till now has the countries only bulletproof roadside marker. it weighs 500 pounds, it cost 1200 dollars and it's made of three quarter inch hardened steel. now, full disclosure, if you comb in 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, instead we
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should leave the bullet riddled signed standing. i said that because the bullet holes layers on top of till story seemed like a great way to pull the story into the 21st century. because the bullet holes are powerful affective lee reminders that we still have not put behind us the racism that caused tool to lose his life. as a historian until's murder, one of my deepest convictions is we must not confine the story until's murder to 1955. it is a story that it 66 years old and still growing. honestly, the image of till story on the sign, but punctured by bullet holes is just a great way to capture the ongoing drama of the story. and changed my mind in a
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conversation with the late erika gordon taylor, another cousin of emmett till. she told me, while she agreed -- first of all she agreed to tell the story, to pull the story into the 21st century. she told me that the sinus to violent, it's too traumatizing and triggering to leave it standing there, in an innocent field! not knowing who will stumble upon it. i found that argument compelling. i joined forces with the 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. 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. put the vandalized emmett till
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science in museums. lo and behold, not long after that i heard from two missing curators at the smithsonian, -- after about a year of work reckoning with remembrance opened and flag how, the grandma side entrance of the national museum of american history. one of the first questions a lot of people asked me about this exhibit, why is it here? 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 why isn't this there? a couple reasons, first they have a till exhibit and it's amazing. they don't need another one. more than that they know the demographics of their visitors. they know that people go to the african american museum to see
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a certain side of american history. those that don't want that side come to the american history museum, which tends towards the patriotic. the go america cheerleading. as you can see in the background of this picture the 200 foot rendition of the betsy ross flag. i have got to say, i love that they put this on at the entrance to flag hall! ble towhen it was here, and have moved to a different place now. when it wasn't 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. it's as if to say, both of these are parts of american history. that seemed supersmart to me. i got to go for the dedication. this is my daughter on the left
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is till's cousin, the reverend wheeler parker. on the right is the reverend willie williams. the coach here of the commission that put up the signs. this fall, september 17th a second major museum exhibition is going to open the features a bullet riddled sign. like the smithsonian, the indianapolis children museum created an entire exhibit around one of the bullet riddled signs. this is a traveling exhibit. after it opens an indiana or go to birmingham, jacksonville mississippi, and to the atlanta history center. i cannot wait. so what do we learn from all of this put after 50 years of silence, the interracial group of citizens joined forces to put up signs. the signs were then stolen,
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replaced, shot, replaced again, shot again, and replaced again. every time local citizens took it upon themselves to tell till's the story on the landscape of the mississippi delta vandals got their guns and transformed markers of the black experience into yet one more reminder of white supremacy. on bowed by this violence, the smithsonian and the minneapolis museum are transforming the signs once again by contextualizing designs, they're 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 mississippi join as the heroes of till's story.
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when we remember that he 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 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, for a moment they were prized number one in the fight for civil rights. it was at a lunch counter that bernard and others had detergent poured down their
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backs. it was at a lunch counter that john lewis, james devil were nearly suffocated. it was at a lunch counter where john was attacked with brass knuckles. were others were attacked with condiments and we're meant this norment was beaten while the jackson police looked on. hear me out on this one. don't you think that kind of like the lunch counters of old, memorials have become new public sites of racial confrontation? just as this man was once beaten at a lunch counter while the police looked on. in 2017, this woman was killed just down the road in charlottesville at a memorial while trump looked on, later proclaiming that there were very fine people on both sides. at charlottesville was exceptional only in its death toll. in the past year and change
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memorials have become protests sites in richmond, st. paul, washington, d.c., chapel hill, birmingham, st. augustine, benton bill, oxford, dallas, 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 two sites of racial activism. if memorials have become the litmus tests of our racial politics it is because they are a public storytelling venue par excellence. they force us to confront basic questions about our past, what's stories and whose will be dignified in public space. what's stories and whose will be come part of the built environment and part of the unquestioned background against which we live our lives. what's stories and whose will
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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 of a new lunch counters i just mean that the stories we tell or don't tell about the american past are now on the front lines of the fight for racial justice. let's end with a tribute to these boys. tyler and curtis hill, recent graduates from the university of mississippi. students who would not let vandals have the last word, who marched through their campus with this sign and conducted a silent protest at the base of a monument to which they objected. the fact that the police
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dispersed their protest after five minutes does not take away from the fact that this might be the perfect image of our current racial climate. look at this picture. consider what we see here at the most abstract, we see a fight over whose history is told in public, and more precisely we see the story of till's story in white letters on a purple background punctuated by bullet holes, framed by the confederacy but reclaimed by these students. we can also learn something about the condition of telling black stories in this isn't alone. till story had to confront a landscape that valorize's white history. we had to confront bullets and had to come from the police. if we broaden our perspective a little bit more, tail story had to confront people like william
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bradford and the tribble family who were only too happy to suppress the story if it meant lining their own pockets against all these odds. i think we need to count their short protest as a win. just think of what the tail story had come through to get to this point. finally, this is an image of what the fight for racial justice can look like in the 21st century. it is a fight over what's stories we tell in public. that's it, thank you very much. [applause] >> we have time for questions from the audience. if you will raise your hand, stand and ask your question.
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>> my question is this. you said they lived in chicago, any memorials, signs, et cetera, et cetera in chicago like this? >> yes, is the answer to your question. chicago has always been a head of mississippi in the task of commemorating the murder. there isn't emmett till school in chicago, there is then emmett till bridge. the home where he lived in downtown chicago in 1955 is currently vacant but there is work afoot to reclaim it. the home where he grew up as a kid next to wheeler parker which is about a baseball field west of, not o'hare, what is a
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small airport? midway, about a baseball throw for midway. that home is no longer there but the site is there and it is now paved with bricks. you can buy these bricks, there is a sign there. about brock away from that is the chicago version of the emmett till memorial center. the short answer is yes. chicago has always been ahead. one of the brand-new developments, 2019, 2020, is that the family in chicago has really in unprecedented ways joined forces with the nonprofit in mississippi to connect the commemorative work do going on in chicago to the commemorative work going on in mississippi. you can sign this petition online, there is a current project to create, what's the word here? a discontinuous national park with sites in both chicago and
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mississippi dedicated to the memory of emmett ill. i even think, you can check me on this, i think the secretary of the interior was there last week to scout these sites. [inaudible] are you talking about bryant grocery? >> yes. >> the question is, how long has it taken -- i think you're asking about the tribbles, the family of the grocery? they have never spoken out. they, as you might imagine, it is their best interest to be a very quiet and reserved family. they are a very reserved and quiet family. the only trouble i have spoken with is two generations removed. racism is not entirely generational but it is partly generational.
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i do have hopes that as the years go by, there are things in the works right now to try to get this building. there are carrot tactics in their artistic tactics to try to save bryant's grocery. it will happen in spite of the troubles, not through the agency of the troubles. >> [inaudible] we frequently talk about events like this as part of black history, i think it's unfortunate. it's a lot of our white history, also. white americans have to have an ability to come to terms and reconcile our own [inaudible] that's just something i keep thinking about, i'm not sure -- i don't know how else to say. >> now, that's great that's helpful. i think a better term i use
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these terms but rather than black history or white history, a better term would probably be difficult history, right? it's important to teach difficult history. you know, difficult history is under attack these days. think about the legacy, the 16 19 commission, the 1776 -- whatever the response was. it is terribly important that we teach difficult history right now. that is about these missed sony and is trying to do kudos to them for trying to do that. >> i, what was going on in the 70s and 80s and 90s, all these people were talking about emmett till? what's occurred in that now here we are 70 years later we have tv shows movies books. your book, other people's book. what's what was the catalytic event do you think? what were people doing for 30
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or 40 years? >> it's hard to explain what people don't talk about, ray? if you want, if you are into the internet -- what do they call it and graham things where you try to track the frequency of words overtime. if you track emmett till, it is statistically verifiable that the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, virtually no one was talking about him. the fact that we live in a culture that puts him until upfront. abc last month ran this massive documentary, a screenplay, this is an anomaly. 60s, 70s, 80s, there were some people talking. these people were mostly artists, and all honesty. dylan, songwriters, they were thinking about the emmett story in the latter part of the 20th century. here is a story, i'm from
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kansas city, lawrence. kansas city isn't emmett till town. i can explain that if you are interested. every time a big tilt thing comes out there, is a big event in downtown kansas city. debris anderson's book came out some years ago, he came to kansas city he did a big talk with alvin sykes in the downtown branch of the public library in kansas city. a venue perhaps not quite this big but almost. it was packed! at the end of the lecture, an elderly white gentlemen stood up and said, how come i never heard the stories? i was growing up in the 60s and 70s, no one was talking about it! a party on the stage never even got to respond. before they could begin to answer an elderly african american gentleman stood up, i've been living with the story my tire life! i was drilled into why five years old. i got reminders on an annual basis. right? one of the things i learned
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from that experience is, sometimes when it seems like chills tory have gone underground. those 49 years and 11 months when the state spent zero dollars! that doesn't mean that no one is talking about it. it just means that they are talking about it in public. one of the reasons people don't talk about the till story in public is four years it was considered, scandalous is not -- subversive! it was considered subversive literature to this extent that, you know how people in mississippi delta learn of the till story? the news traveled north to chicago. when i talk to chicago, it hit the media juggernaut of johnson publications! they put it in the chicago defender. the black newspaper from chicago was then smuggled, on the illinois central railroad
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back in the mississippi. people ten miles from where the murders that happened could read about the murder and learn about it for the first time by a paper smuggled in from chicago. one of the things i learned from that anecdote is this is a subversive story. if you were to go up and ask one of these people, do you know the story of emmett tell even if they did they would say no, right? you had to smuggle the stuff in! it was guarded, if you read the biography of the activists and moody, she talks about learning the story of emmett till but never talking about it publicly. all of the stuff it complicates what's happened in those decades. i know that that is a long winded answer. but thank you. >> [inaudible] >> you've been in a relationship with emmett till now for more than a decade.
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how has emit changed you? >> that's a hard question. that's a pretty common question to. the easy way to answer it is to say, i did not take up till store because i was an advocate for racial justice. i became an advocate for racial justice because i took up till story. i often tell people, in fact i might have even told you guys tonight, when i started making this app thought it would be a part-time job. i was gonna write a book on architecture which clearly never happened but it became a vocation, occasionally i will describe as a calling. this story really captured my life. one of the reasons i include that photograph of my daughter
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and i in the smithsonian if to give people a sense that it is a job, and i'm not unaware of the fact that they get paid for my job of being a professor, right? but it has become more of a job. it has seeped into not just my life, but my family's life. i wish, honestly, both of my kids could be here but ashlyn in particular love the story. >> caro anderson teaches a class about efforts in the early 1960s to register african american voters and mississippi. she described some of the leaders of the movement, their tactic, and the opposition they face from segregationist. here is a portion of that program. >> moses goes down to the courthouse, he's got a couple of guys with him. they are going up the steps to go register black folks to go vote. billy jack casten shows up, pulls out a knife, turns the handle around and bam hits
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moses. >> moses staggers, billy jackson is not on he start whaling on a whaling on them, remember nonviolence. you learn how to take the blows! what you know, remember we talked about the path ethnic notions. what you know is the moment you swing back, it becomes a justifiable homicide when they kill you. multiple reasons for nonviolence as a strategy. and so whaling on a, whaling on a, moses just goes into his own. that zen zone the. two black guys who were with him, he was trying to help register double. they saw billy jack in the took off running! it is -- yeah, yeah, your boys just up and leave you.
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[laughs] went billy jack's done, moses is a bloody pulpy mess. billy jack is really proud of what he's done. he and his boys walk away like, laughing when they are gone melissa stands up, bleeding. just bleeding. the two guys who ran away they are looking, moses like, are you ready to go rich to devote? yeah. i mean, you see that kind of strength. that is that quiet power. >> all episodes of american history tv lectures in history series our veiled watch online, anytime at slash history.
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this is the first of three different webinars that we are going to be hosting between hoover institution brown's watson institute and mit's s this is the first of three different webinars that we will be hosting between mit -- we are really excited because we are going to be talking about wargames. the moderators of this series, dr. reid and doctor


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