A sign of the racism that persists in America

The story of Emmett Till, a 14-year old black boy from Chicago who was lynched in 1955, is a shameful chapter in American history. Many of you know about it, but I’ll briefly give the salient facts. Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when the white wife of a local grocery-store owner told locals that Till had entered the store and whistled at her, flirted with her, and grabbed her. (Details vary, and she admitted later that she made at least part of the story up. It may be entirely fabricated.)

Flirting with a white woman was effectively a capital crime in the South at that time, and two white men, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, abducted Till, beat him severely, shot him, and then tossed his body, weighted down with a fan, into the Tallahatchie River. His disfigured corpse was recovered three days later and returned to Chicago for the funeral. His mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted on an open-casket viewing so that people could see what had been done to her boy (you can see a photo of the battered body here).  Here is Till’s mother weeping at his coffin:

As for the killers, both were acquitted after a deliberation that lasted barely an hour. (One juror reportedly said, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.”) In 2017 it was revealed that the woman who accused Till had admitted years earlier to fabricating most of her testimony. After his death and funeral, Emmett Till became a symbol of brutality and oppression of blacks, and was a powerful inspiration for the civil rights movement.

The latest incident, reported by the Washington Post, deals with a sign put up by the Tallahatchie River to commemorate where Till’s body was found. The headline tells the tale (click on the screenshot to see the story):

This is one of eight markers put up at sites connected with Till’s lynching, including the now-dilapidated grocery store where the story began. This marker was torn down ten years ago, and a replacement sign was subsequently shot up with more than 100 bullets. Here’s that sign in 2016:

Another replacement was put up in June of this year, and by July it had been shot up again, as you can see in the picture under the headline. Four bullets had been fired into it only five weeks after it was dedicated. There are plans to put up a stronger, bulletproof sign, one donated by a company from New York.

But I’d leave the shot-up sign standing, and perhaps put another one next to it pointing out the bullet holes. For, as sure as the Sun comes up every day, those who fired bullets into Emmett Till’s memorial are racists, cowards who expressed their bigotry with rifles in the night, just as Till’s murderers did 63 years ago. If you could pick something to show the persistent racism of America, the bullet-riddled sign will do as well as anything.

 

71 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  2. Doug
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Let’s see if conservatives get as upset about this as they do about Confederate statues being torn down.

    • Historian
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      I would bet that the people who shoot the sign are exactly the type who would bemoan the taking down of Confederate statues as an insult to their glorious southern heritage.

      • Randy Bessinger
        Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        +1

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      I doubt it. See this tweet: https://twitter.com/ajplus/status/1032746915790606336

  3. yazikus
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Shameful.

  4. Posted August 23, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Scotties Toy Box and commented:
    An informative read and a reminder that racism is still strong in our country. There are people actively trying to take us back to a time before civil rights laws. Even with the civil rights laws we did not have equality, and we need to remind everyone what bigotry can and will do. Hugs

  5. Posted August 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I think the 2015 north Carolina law against removing confederate statues speaks for itself.

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Our current POTUS speaks for itself.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Hell, it doesn’t just speak; it sings in harmony with North Carolina’s voter-suppression and gerrymandering laws and its HB2 bathroom bill.

      The Tar Heel state has one of the most reactionary legislatures in the nation and is on the front lines of the GOP’s ruthless efforts to hang onto power despite its shrinking voter base.

      • Filippo
        Posted August 23, 2018 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        The Republican-controlled legislature is trying to put on the ballot a half-dozen or so amendments reducing the power of the governor, who is of course a Democrat. Had their candidate won this kerfuffle wouldn’t manifest itself. A state court has determined that the language of at least two of the amendments is difficult to understand if not deceitful. The legislature has been called back into special session to rephrase amendment language. I’ve seen at least one sign in front of a residence urging voters to vote against all such amendments.

    • Posted August 23, 2018 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      “I think the 2015 north Carolina law against removing confederate statues speaks for itself.”

      Perhaps, but what in fact does it say? The law prevents removing, relocating, or defacing monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission. This hardly strikes me as draconian and is certainly not as problematic as its opposite would be—namely, license to remove, relocate, or deface monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers on public property at will.

      While nothing in the law specifies that the monument in question be Confederate, the intention of the law is clearly to protect same. Keep in mind, as well, that every grave marker of a Confederate soldier who died in the Civil War is by definition a “Confederate memorial.” Are we going to remove/destroy them all?

      As for the statue of Robert E. Lee that was at the center of the Charlottesville protests, the fact is that Lee was by many historical standards the most loved general in any American war, respected during the Civil War by North and South alike. Personally, I find the idea that miniscule-minded people with a political axe to grind should be allowed to deface or pull down the statue of a man whose horse’s ass they aren’t worthy to lick to be far more offensive than any racist implications of the monument itself.

      • Posted August 23, 2018 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

        Most of those mass-produced confederate statues aren’t historical which is why museums don’t even want to take them:

        https://splinternews.com/even-museums-dont-want-all-these-janky-racist-statues-1797949600

        The Silent Sam statue has to be toppled by students because the university wasn’t legally allowed to take down the statue under existing law even though it had an especially racist speech when it was erected in the 1910s, and has been unpopular for 70 years. Leaving the statues up would be little different from leaving swatstickers and cheap Nazi propaganda up in Germany just because “propaganda is historical. ”

        No one is actually talking about tearing down confederate gravestones in cemeteries; stop reading biased editorials from conservative talk radio and/or Faux News. Lost cause is a myth; the South fought for slavery and they lost the war; get over it.

        • Filippo
          Posted August 23, 2018 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

          “Lost cause is a myth; the South fought for slavery and they lost the war; get over it.”

          Now the next step in the moral evolution of human primates is to get them to stop treating one another as human “resources” and “capital” to be manipulated and exploited.

          To paraphrase the old hymn:

          “All hail the power of Capitalism’s name,
          Let men before it prostrate fall;
          Bring forth the royal diadem
          And crown it lord of all.”

        • Posted August 24, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          “The Silent Sam statue has to be toppled by students because [… it …] has been unpopular for 70 years.”

          Somehow, for 70 years the presence of the statue did not cause students to melt away like a vampire face with a crucifix. Yet now, all of a sudden, it is vital and imperative to tear it down without delay; because, apparently, today’s generation are pathetic, quivering wrecks.

          Defacing plaques, toppling statues — this fixation with symbols is an insanity suffered buy extremists on both left and right. The vast, sane majority of the center should not get swept up by this lunacy.

          • Posted August 24, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

            For the first 50 years the South had Jim Crow and no civil rights for blacks, it’s not surprising no one complained in a culture where lynching happened. Ever since the 60s people have said publicly they wanted to get rid of those statues and the will to do so has increased over time. They don’t belong on public property any more than 10 commandments statues do.

            • Posted August 24, 2018 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

              “Ever since the 60s people have said publicly they wanted to get rid of those statues and the will to do so has increased over time.”

              That being the case, they shouldn’t have to resort to vandalism to get it done.

              • Posted August 26, 2018 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

                Wheels of the government have turned too slow. If you were a non-racist in a government run by by white supremacists who have all the power to block you from respecting statues to racist rebel assholes like Lee, then you wouldn’t respect the so-called law either.

              • Posted August 27, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

                “. . .then you wouldn’t respect the so-called law either.”

                Actually, I would, because the alternative is chaos. But I appreciate your showing your true colors as an anarchist.

            • Posted August 24, 2018 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

              False analogy: The Establishment Clause prohibits Ten Commandments monuments.

              We can’t have individuals tearing down anything they don’t like — that’s anarchy. If they wanted that particular statue removed, they should’ve gone through the proper channels.

              • Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:05 am | Permalink

                You guys only support rebels if they’re Confederates, otherwise you’re pro-establishment when it suits you. No matter who gets hurt or what historical lies are being perpetuated; what a hoot.

              • Posted August 30, 2018 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                Who is “you guys”, and where did I expressly support confederates, as opposed to rejecting vigilanteism?

        • Diane G
          Posted August 25, 2018 at 4:09 am | Permalink

          Per Ed Burmila, proliferations of Confederate statues coincide with “surges in KKK activity.” And see his excerpt of the dedication speech for one of them:

      • Posted August 23, 2018 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        “Personally, I find the idea that miniscule-minded people with a political axe to grind should be allowed to deface or pull down the statue of a man whose horse’s ass they aren’t worthy to lick to be far more offensive than any racist implications of the monument itself.”

        On second thought, perhaps not; but certainly more offensive than any law that would prevent them from doing so.

  6. Christopher
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Racism and ignorance is alive and well in Redneckistan. Too bad we waste so much energy arguing about who’s allowed to wear what hairstyle or eat which foods and other “important “ issues. However, I’ll choose to focus on the positives. That such a memorial sign exists at all, that bullet-marked though it may be, it still stands, is an example of the fact that the times they are a’changin’, albeit with geological slowness.

    • Filippo
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      There was an NPR “All Things Considered” segment today (08232018) about people of color dying their hair blonde, and an interview with a photographer about her show in a Brooklyn gallery documenting the phenomenon.

  7. Cate Plys
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Jerry’s point is fanstastic–to leave the sign up with bullet holes, and put up another noting the bullet holes. It would be a perfect complement to Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to insist on an open coffin.

    • freiner
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted August 24, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      But it may lead to a sign explaining why the sign explaining the bullet holes itself has holes, and so on. (I don’t think that risk should stop anyone, though.)

  8. JB
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Before concluding that racism was the only (or even main) factor, I’d want to see how many other signs around that area were shot up. I used to live in the countryside in Oregon and pretty much every sign was full of bullet holes…

    The sign shown, in fact, has holes clustered around the yellow center marker, as if the shooters were doing target practice, rather than indiscriminately shooting up the sign. In any case, it’s disrespectful to shoot up ANY sign, and deeply so in this case.

    Finally: my heart breaks every time I read about the Till story. A life stolen from a child and his family.

    • andrewilliamson
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Plenty of young men out there without fully formed frontal lobes. Imo some will shoot a sign just to or because it will piss people off, or just because they feel like it and don’t think they’ll be held accountable. Callous disregard, sure, but I wouldn’t assume racism.

      They should put up cameras to catch the vandals.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        Just as a side, it is illegal to shoot a gun of any kind from the road. It is generally, in most states, illegal to have a loaded gun in a car or even a shotgun or rifle that is not in a case or broken down. So anyone shooting up road signs or any signs along the road are illegal in doing so, not to mention destruction of property. Anyway, it may be racist but it is certainly a moron.

        • Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          Yet shooting at road signs remains a popular rural pastime, based on the quantity of holes in them.

      • Posted October 13, 2018 at 5:19 am | Permalink

        I thought the same about cameras. And I’d like the recording uploaded in the Web for the world to see.

    • yazikus
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      I used to live in the countryside in Oregon and pretty much every sign was full of bullet holes…

      I, too, have come from rural Oregon and can attest to the state of the signage. The holes are sporadic, they don’t seem to be deliberately targeting any specific sign, and the density is no where near that of this sign. I’ve always taken rural sign-shooting as a mild form of anti-govt. activity. This sign would present both that, and the bonus of defacing a memorial to those who find it unpalatable.

    • Posted August 23, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Then you should see equivalent numbers of bullet holes in church signs, pro-Trump signs, and anti-abortion signs.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 23, 2018 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        Well, you could do an experiment – erect some and count the bullet-holes.

        I do agree that some of the bullet holes in Till’s sign may have come from trigger-happy gun owners who shoot at anything convenient. It occasionally happens here in NZ in the backblocks, to totally non-political signs, and we just know that it was some idle hunter taking a pot-shot.

        Though I submit the rather sanctimonious sign that some nannyish road-safety twonk put up, “100* – it’s not a target” – with an actual bullseye on it – was just begging for it.
        (* Speed limit being 100 km/hr, of course)

        cr

    • Zane
      Posted August 24, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      My thoughts more or less exactly. Having lived for many years in very rural areas, I’ve observed that the local knuckle-draggers like to turn every sign outside a certain radius of town into swiss cheese.

      Maybe the people who shot up the sign are racists. Maybe they even shot it up because of their racism. After all, the ven diagrams for “racists” and “people who shoot up road signs” probably overlap considerably. But I would look to simple disregard for public property before assuming racism is the primary motivating factor.

      • Posted August 24, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. Correlation is not causation. The common factor is disregard for others.

  9. Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Can’t speak to the motives of those shooting that particular sign, but pretty much every sign gets shot up in rural areas.

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Yep. Seemed to me every single Stop sign in Okanagon county last week had at least one hole. Many were Swiss-cheese.

      Still, the motivation for THIS shooting seems obvious to me.

      • yazikus
        Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        Right? I know signs get shot up, but this is quite an effort-ful shooting. Every time it goes up, they head out and vandalize it. They know what they are doing.

      • Posted August 24, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        The motivation of everyone who shot up this sign may well be racist. I suppose someone could count the holes/square inch of every sign in town to see if this sign is especially disliked and if so, quantify how much.

        But I’m initially wary of do-gooder city slickers coming in and presuming. I doubt they’d get in a similar tizzy over apparent redneck hatred for speed limits and railroad crossings.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 24, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          Yeah, because all that stuff about racism is exaggerated. Fake news. The real problem is white farmers being killed in large numbers in South Africa.

          • Posted August 24, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

            I merely questioned how much of the sign shooting was due to racism vs. the local custom of shooting signs. You are the one who made it an all-or-nothing proposition.

            Nevertheless, the prevalence of racism is being exaggerated. But that’s appealing to SJWs who regret they were born too late to participate in the civil rights movement.

            I’m not the one presenting the false dichotomy between one ‘real’ problem vs. another. But, yes, what’s being done to white farmers in SA is racist and wrong. The callous dismissal of it by the left is notable.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      The Republican election board in predominantly black Randolph County, Georgia, has moved to shut down seven of the county’s nine polling places (coincidentally, no doubt, just in time for this Fall’s election where a black woman is running as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate). A tad off topic, sure, but I know you try to keep abreast of the GOP’s brutal voter-suppression efforts across the country.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        I was just hearing about that on NPR. Got me yelling and swearing at the radio again while driving. Their reason is to save costs. Yeah, right.

      • Posted August 24, 2018 at 8:35 am | Permalink

        I don’t think your ‘voter suppression’ windmill tilting is ever off-topic for you.

        Over the years, my overwhelmingly white & rural county has shut down nearly all its polling stations, and gone to absentee ballots.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 24, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          So you’re passing this off as a simple austerity measure?

          For someone with rabbit ears when it comes to any slight by the regressive left against white men, you seem near insensible to old-fashioned white bigotry against minorities.

          • Posted August 24, 2018 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

            Did you just call me a bigot?

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 25, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

              Oh, I think I was clear. But let me aim for pellucidity: I think you lack perception when it comes to sussing out white bigotry against minorities.

              That’s not an accusation of bigotry, but of racial myopia, a condition endemic among many white Americans, especially those on the Right.

              • Posted August 25, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

                Given your previous ad hominem attacks against me in violation of this site’s rules, it behooved you to clarify that.

                Instead, you accuse me of “racial myopia” (another term for “white fragility”?) By either name, it’s a laughable, unfalsifiable concept, yet typical of the fractured logic and circular reasoning of the Regressive Left.

                You falsely assume that any phenomenon – whether plunking signs or switching to absentee ballots – that just might be motivated by racism, must be motivated by racism. Anyone who questions the validity of your assumption or even asks for credible evidence, cannot do so for legitimate, logical reasons, but only from blindness. To complete this Kafkaesque madness, if anyone denies his or her racial myopia, implicit bias, bigotry or white privilege, that denial is itself proof of the sin in question.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 25, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

                Cite as an example where I have ever engaged in an ad hominem attack on you or any other fellow commenter in violation of the site’s rules.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 25, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

                Matt, are you going for an Irony Award?

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      My guess is that people who shoot up signs have a high probability of being racist.

      • Posted August 24, 2018 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        On what do you base your guess?

  10. Geoff Toscano
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I have a feeling that the era of this horrific incident is the period longed for by Trump supporters as being ‘when America was great’.

  11. Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  12. Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Our Daily Elvis and commented:
    In an era where free speech is putting gun blueprints for 3d printers for one group and kneeling during the anthem

    it should be pretty clear what free speech is is not moot.

  13. Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for reminding us of the horrific story. It is not at all surprising that racism is still alive and well especially in that part of the country. Ideas and customs of that nature just don’t change quickly.

    In the decades since the late 60s until now, racism had been kept in check via our laws and the knowledge that most of the country objected to it. Trump told everyone that racism is back on and that it is no longer necessary to hide it quite so much. Sure, you can’t use the n-word and lynchings are still illegal but go ahead and do whatever you can get away with.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I saw a traffic sign with a bullet hole once here in Sweden, and that got my pulse up. (It could well have been a hunting accident, but that is not much comfort.)

    But when I lived in Texas I saw many…

    • yazikus
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      I think part of that is because in the US – we don’t recognize the government, nor the things it gives us, as ours and by us. There is so much us vs. the govt. rhetoric that we don’t mind destroying the very things we’re paying for.

      • Posted August 24, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        That, and it’s fun to shoot stuff.

        • yazikus
          Posted August 24, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          Though I wish they’d stick to their keystone cans and then take them with when they are done.

  15. Posted August 23, 2018 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Well that’s a bit random and horrifying, racism, guns and lies.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of old-school racism, Donald Trump issued his first tweet ever mentioning the continent of Africa. Did it to promote a “white genocide” conspiracy theory emanating from the far-right fever swamp and ginned up on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News (where Trump, who has unlimited access to the entire US intelligence apparatus, apparently gets his foreign policy scoops).

    Just another ration of red meat to keep the white-nationalist base from growing restive.

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      There is no doubt Trump is blowing a dog whistle to his racist base (no offense to our canine friends), and every single day he debases the office of the Presidency. But one nugget of data from the article you cite gives me pause;

      “After a peak in 2001/2002, the number of farm attacks—rape, robbery and other forms of violent crime short of murder—has decreased to about half,” Chutel wrote. “Similarly, the number of murders on farms peaked in 1997/1998 at 153, but today that number is below 50.”

      So there has been a drop in the murders of (mostly white) farmers and it is now lower than it has been in years, by 2/3s since 2002. That’s great.

      But….what’s the murder rate for farmers in the US? In the EU? What about in other countries in Africa? Is the murder rate the same?

      If not, despite the rate dropping in recent years (a good thing), the fact that farmers are getting murdered suggests there might be a problem. Don’t you think?

      The ghost of Zimbabwe looms over this issue.

  17. Taz
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    But I’d leave the shot-up sign standing, and perhaps put another one next to it pointing out the bullet holes.

    I like this idea – and keep going. Fifty signs would be a hell of a monument, and a testament to perseverance.

    • sshort
      Posted August 23, 2018 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Brilliant idea, PCC(E).

  18. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 23, 2018 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Bob Dylan recorded a song about Emmett Till for his second album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” but chose not to include it.
    (It’s actually the first Dylan album for which he wrote most of the songs. His first album had 2 songs by him with mostly traditional songs.)

    Although Dylan has been assiduous about keeping most of his stuff off of YouTube, a complete version of this is available.

    It’s not one of the better songs, so I can see why Dylan chose not to include it.
    The album includes “Oxford Town” about the attempt to integrate the University of Mississippi, and this is the much better of the two songs.

    Nonetheless I post the Emmett Till song here.

  19. Posted August 24, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m pleased to see there is not one racist piece of graffiti on the sign.

    That would have been one insult too many.


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