I’ve just returned from an event honoring the legacy of Emmett Till. I was invite to go to the event by a colleague on the Cabinet. If you, like me, are not very familiar with Emmett Till’s story it is an incredible one.
Till, a 14 year old African American boy from Chicago, went to Money, Mississippi in August of 1955. Being a fun loving lad and not understanding the strict cultural mores of the south, he whistled at an attractive white woman and three days later was kidnapped from his relative’s home, in the middle of the night, and brutally murdered. His brave mother, not willing to allow the horrific act to be swept under the rug, had her son’s broken and mangled body viewed and photographed in an open casket at his funeral. The story was picked up by newspapers and media around the country and many looking back point to this event, and the outrage that it generated, as the beginning of the civil rights movement that ran through the 1960’s and continues today.
The presentations of the panel tonight were both informative and moving. One of the panel members was Wheeler Parker, Jr. Wheeler is Emmett Till’s cousin and traveled with him on that fateful journey to Mississippi. He was in the house when the men came and took Emmett. The grace with which Wheeler spoke about his fear and the injustice that followed ─ the men who killed Emmett were arrested, tried, and acquitted in one hour by the all-white jury ─ was truly inspiring. And the call to all of us to both continue to learn and remember the history, and to be catalysts in the present day for the change in our culture, is a challenge that stirs me.
While the level of overt racism that took the life of Emmett Till is not tolerated by our laws and our culture today, the systemic racism that drove it is alive and well and needs to be confronted, named and addressed by the Church. We need to be those who, with the love and justice of Christ, call out this ongoing reality and work for change.
Wheeler Parker, Jr. named tonight the reality that, “The wheels of justice grind slowly.” But we must never let the wheels of justice stop, and we must not become complacent with how far we have come. We are called as followers of Jesus to do what we can to move forward the cause of Justice and true freedom for all.