Thursday, July 16, 2009

emmett till: the shaping of a people's dream (27)

emmett till:
the shaping of a people’s dream

o distant sky, wide earth, vast seas,
do not crush & don't destroy the wicked.
let them destroy themselves!
itshak katzenelson

gunnar myrdal surveys southern whites
on miscegenation:

what do u think the negro mostly wants
from integration?

“cain’t u see?” they said.

“nigras want nothing more, nothing less
than to marry & fornicate with white women!”

what he didn’t ask:

“why do u feel this way?”

that terrifyingly tumescent query would tear,
rend & rupture:

the membranous tissue of lies that partly or
completely occludes the rabbit hole to certain
sexual disintegration & mental sadism;
the plausible reasons given to explain away
purely phobic behavior driven by the prurient
delusions of mass psychosis. false sensate
perceptions elicited by what drug,
what wish or dark phantasmal desire?

the brutish african with his abnormally large
penis lasciviously leering at the fleshy
contours of whiteness; breaching, eroticizing
racial borders – mothers, sisters, daughters –
no matter; seeking to desecrate what was
proclaimed unsullied – the whited receptacle
for small but sacred fetishes.

see him, that mortal black behemoth, mount
the helpless rapunzel, climb her hair, take her
roughly, rending, tearing & stretching, his
sloshing pleasure drowning out her screams –

while a diminutive white boy, humiliated by
his small endowment looks on thinking
ruinous thoughts; complicated, conflicted
thoughts that make him want to kill the beast
& rid the world of its kind; to string him up on
a poplar tree, boil him in oil, strip off his flesh
& castrate the offending member. or failing to
do so becomes himself degraded, a human
toilet, a cleaner of ejaculate, a cuckold & a

while a little white girl, bewildered by
unwanted sanctimony, ambivalently totters on
her pedestal, looks on not knowing what to do
or think. conflicted, she like shamhat of old
with the sweetness of temple harlotry. but religion
succors not her lust, only her guilt. she yearns for, is
repulsed by what she sees & aroused, makes
the vision obligatory for sexual functioning.

she plans furtive liaisons she can disavow if
caught; pawns beast & sexual intimacy for

emmett louis till is born. no avatar of man-the-
whole is he; just a little black boy, raised
without a father, who in untimely death gave
conscious shape to a people’s dream.
a people’s unconscious, massed for
action, becomes aware of a light in
its collective darkness; a luminous
phosphorescence flitting, hovering
over swampy ground caused by
spontaneous combustion of hopes
unrealized & dreams deferred…

emmett louis till, a pawn in a cosmic chess
match, a piece of the lowest value blunders
onto life’s eighth rank & is promoted to a
symbol of power.

went down to mississippi, ridin’ the
southbound train
went down to mississippi, ridin the
southbound train;
& there found death awaiting to
take me home again.
three days in money was all it took. money,
mississippi. three days for the whimsical
innocent, traipsing along the crags of phobic
southern life, without regard for hidden peril,
to trespass racial borders, to stir the dragon of
sexual psychosis.

perhaps he got caught up in the glamour of
southern serendipity. thought he was in a
humphrey bogart movie. thought like a
fourteen year old. thought pretty carolyn
bryant was lauren bacall & that her conflicted
look meant:

u know how to whistle, don't u,
emmett? u just put yr lips together
- & blow."

emmett louis till, or maybe some other
faceless black phantasm, escaped missus
bryant’s psychotic subterranean chamber of
horrors & whistled. she gave him up to
redeem her virtue; to save husband roy & in-law
j.w. from the whirlpools that tear the
fabric of white southern mind & body.

three days later they came for him. before day
on a sunday, retributive white wrongness
snatched the boy out of mose wright’s house
& taught him a lethal lesson.

two redneck paladins of white womanhood;
killed a young buck because they could.

the mississippi delta, pristine symbol of soul
merging with the absolute, of spiritual
nourishment, tasted corruption; tasted the
desecration of adolescent whimsy

the good old boys had a good laugh when
they dragged the mutilated body out of the
tallahatchie. said:

“aint it just like a nigger to try to
swim the river wit a cotton gin fan
chained to his back.”

a bloated fourteen-year-old corpse not
worth a
goddamned whistle.

his mama cried:

"look what they’ve done to my son!"

put his reliquiae & american insanity on
immediate display for the world to see...

if a thousand, it was fifty thousand black
chicagoans on that grim september day who
looked upon that body; those remains:

a people’s unconscious, massed for
action, gravitates toward a gory
image, becomes identified with yet
another cruciate symbol; an
emblem of suffering & shame…
they marched around that coffin in robert’s
temple of god, some passing out from the
sight, their footfalls raising prescient echoes of
marches yet to come, some shouting as their
inner walls of fear & trepidation broke &
came a’tumbling down.

meanwhile, back in mississippi:

nine white farmers, two white carpenters &
one white insurance agent deigned not to
disturb their ancestors nor turn them in their
took minutes to acquit the accused in spite of
the sudden emanation of radiant courage from
moses wright who fingered them in open
court, or the damning testimony of willis reed
who forfeited his sanity when reaching asylum
in chicago.

a people’s unconscious, massed for
action, moves; releases power.

bends the mind of an alabama seamstress who
got sick & tired of being sick & tired until she
becomes spirit in act;

floods the ego of a young georgia preacher who
identifies with a glory image of freedom
until he becomes spirit in act;

opposes the unctuous whore & witch whose spirit
endures in america’s psychic vineyards; the susceptible
ahabs, the roy bryants & j.w. milams who don hats or
hoods, suits or sheets, literally & figuratively to fend off
morbid flaccidity,

becomes fuel for an endless journey of
collective growth…

we give thanks, emmett, for yr immolation,
much like the faithful who, venerate agony,
transubstantiate flesh to bread & blood to
wine. we offer up yr body that our celebrant
collective memory may take, eat & remember!

we give thanks, emmett, for the gift u have
given us, first to move us up out of our apathy
& resignation into anger, then to help us
release that anger into self-affirming action.

we need to remember!

in remembering, we can revisit yr bloated
visage again & again, not to wallow in inertia
& recrimination, but to test our emotional
wounds to see if they are healing; to see if we
have outgrown our need to build collective
identity around past atrocity.

in remembering, we can, if we choose, give up
our grudges, resentments, hatreds & self-pity,
knowing that we do not need them to punish
those who have hurt us; knowing that we were
never truly victims.

in remembering, emmett, we can do honor to
yr sacrifice, drawing on its fullness & power
to rediscover strengths we’ve always had;
relocate our limitless capacity to understand &
accept others & ourselves.

in remembering, emmett, we can heal &

© Joseph McNair; 2009

Publish Post


  1. This brings up powerful memories, my friend. Well done

  2. Institutional racism is horrifying because it means the rejective behaviors of prejudice would not be considered a crime since it is allowed by the law. No matter how degrading or brutal the act is it would not matter because the beliefs, values and attitudes are racist.

    Emmett Tills case was full of institutional racism; the court didn’t justify what happened. His mother saw the darkness, but believed and knew there was going to be light. Emmett Tills death became “fuel for an endless journey of collective growth.” This event is one of the leading events that provoked the American Civil Rights Movement.

    I never learned about Emmett Till, until EDF2085. I almost shed tears while I was reading and watching the movie because of all the details. I also smiled because Mammie Till lived to see how America transformed. This is an event I will never forget.

  3. I must first express my grief of such horrifying brutality. My sincere condolences go out to the family of Emmett Till. To act is such barbaric and ruthless manner is the evil of racism drenched with hatred, superiority and injustice. This is definitely an act of murder one that should have never been allowed to go unpunished. These are some of the issues that lead to prejudice and rivals or revenge and genocide. If I have not been introduced to the issues of diversity, prejudice and racism I am sure I wouldn’t be able to handle this pain I am feeling right now. I pray that this case does not repeat itself and definitely not in the fashion it was handled in the court. With sufficient evidence the court still ruled the murderers not guilty? White supremacy and Injustice the sole act of inferiority. How did the U.S ever arrive at the present justice system?

    Many might have said why did they even attempted to take this case to court when they knew they had no chance of winning but even though it was unjustly dealt with it has open many doors that encouraged African Americans to stand for what is right. Many believed that this is what really sparked the civil rights movement. But something had to. I am happy we are able to move from such intense issue to being more civilize and the effort that is now been placed on acceptance and tolerance.

  4. The story of Emmett Till is a tragic one; probably one of the hardest stories I have had to hear. I was unaware that this was the main cause of the civil rights movement. If I would’ve known that a mere child’s death was the cause of such revolution, I would have had more of a grander interest in the expansion. Emmett Till was sent to Mississippi to visit his family for a break. He got on the train and headed south. When he got off the train he was mystified by the beauty of the south. Emmett and some of his cousins went to a corner drug store to get something. When they entered the store Emmett was being a little “fresh” with the woman at the counter. When they walked out, that’s when the trouble began. Emmett whistled at the woman and that was the end of that. A few days later, Emmett’s body was found floating the Tallahatchie river. He had been severely beaten, shot, mutilated and tied to a 70 pound cotton gin fan. Emmett’s mother and the police could barely identify the body because of the state of his face. When looking at the pictures of what he looked liked, I was in complete and utter disbelief. He barely looked human. His face looked like melted leather and his body was in terrible condition. I have no idea how a human being could be so cruel and rotten. Emmett was only 15 years old. He was barely a man. It’s scary how three grown men could do that to a child. It is like they didn’t have a heart to begin with. At the trial, they looked like they could care less about what they did. They smirked and smiled at camera because they already knew that a white southern man would never be convicted for killing a nigger. The way they spoke about the blacks in the community, was like they were speaking about worthless cattle. Emmett’s mother would write letters to the Supreme Court and even to the president of the United States and would get no reply. It’s as if the world didn’t care about a little black boy who “fell” into the Tallahatchie. But one good thing came out of this case. Because of the courage Emmett’s mother had, other African Americans raised their voices and forced people to listen. This was the beginning of the civil right movement. I feel such disgust when I think about those murders. The injustice in this case is clear. I hope the world will learn from this mistake. This story should inspire all people to change their racist ways because this can happen to anyone. I hope that when people read about Emmett Till, they think twice about treating different people with detestation.

  5. A strong and moving piece, a compelling read. Until I studied Emmett Till's case, he was but a stranger to me. I was always familiar with Rosa Parks and took the time to truly study and understand Martin Luther King’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. This piece encompasses several elements that set apart the movement and expresses the true nature of things in an era that ushered in so many changes.

  6. The poem was strongly moving. I just learned about Emmett Till's case, and I understand how gruesome this case would be to show too elementary and middle school kids, but I believe that when you get to high school kids should learn about this case during black history month. It’s a shame that not many people know about Emmett Till’s case but I believe that this poem showed more than the mess of Emmett Till’s case it showed him as a person and a different way of viewing the case. Instead of seeing him as a slaughter case, there is more to a human the revenge, hurt, and sorrow. It is easy to hurt, and it is easy to lash out on someone for their mistakes, but I believe that it takes much courage to understand that people have hurt you, and some people do thing that anger you, but what is it to you after you lash out on them, what is it to you to hurt them as badly as they’ve hurt you? The pain never dies, and the hurt inside you will continue, until you bring peace within yourself. The past shows us what we’ve done and what has happen to whites and blacks, but what has happen then only affects how we act now. The hatred in us between the two races is what you make of it, why hate someone for what their ancestors did? And why belittle someone? If you think you are more powerful, stronger and wiser, than prove it. There is no need to make someone feel like they are nothing, because everyone means something to someone, even if they don’t mean anything to you.

  7. I think it is ludacris that when the evidence is right in front of people that they are willing to refuse the truth. For all of those white people who say they are extremely religious, i dont know what kind of bible they read but they should know that murder is a sin. not to mention that he was only just a 14 year old boy is just monstrous. the threats they used against the blacks in those types or towns were childish and stupid to me. even the presdient was unwilling to listen to the pleas of a destoryed mother who lost her only child. if they were to put themselev into that type of situation you can be that they would never have let anyone who commited such a hainous act would ever be found guilty. but despite such tragedy the black community was able to rise up and make a stand and let others know thst they will not just sit quietly by anymore, which led us to here and now.

  8. The story of Emmitt Till is both shocking and horrifying. How can it be that this little boy was the victim of two white men who had nothing else better to do? The part that astonished me the most is the fact that most, if not all, the white people knew that these two men where guilty. These white folks decided to defend them because they felt that was what they had to do. No one wanted to speak up and say what was on their mind out of fear. As days went by, a couple people decided to speak up and speak about what they saw and heard. This didn’t seem to really resolve anything either because the outcome was not what should have happened, but they at least know that they stood up for what was right and made it through. This story goes to show how far hatred can go. It makes me realize that we are not that far away from it occurring again today. If things continue to go about the way they are, we can revert back to how things used to be. Hatred of a particular group or person can create unimaginable chaos. If we choose to stand by and do nothing like the majority of the people, then we are also playing a part in the madness. We may think we are not participating, but we sure are accepting it.

  9. People are always going to see what they want to see and for that all white male jury the truth was plain and simple, not guilty. Not because the state wasn’t able to prove guilt, not because they really thought their ancestors would really turn over in their graves, but because they wanted to save their own behinds. Just think, it’s the 1950’s and two white men are on trial for killing a black boy. Can you imagine what would have happened if that jury would’ve convicted those white men? That jury would’ve been shunned out of the white community! They would’ve been just like Willie; sneaking out the court room to leave the state. Even though it’s the right thing to do, it wouldn’t have been the logical thing to do at time for those white men. I’m not condoning what they did but I do understand why they did it. I’m convinced that no matter how much evidence they gave in support of the state; if God Himself would’ve walked in that court room and said “yes, they did it, they killed Emmett,” those med would’ve went against God because they have to live with the white men on earth.

  10. This poem is not just about that tragic event that happened to Emmitt Till. It is also about what may have gone on in the psyche of what men at the time. Why they felt is it so unacceptable for the black man to integrate. They felt that black men wanted their women, women who they didn’t deserve. One question that was never asked was why the white man at the time felt this way. I found this point in the poem very interesting. The single most important question was never asked. Was this question not asked because a white man could not speak on behalf of a black person or would the answer reveal the true nature of the white man? Would it reveal the hate in the heart of the white man that lead to the death of a young fourteen old who whistled at a white women? Will American society ever find an answer to this question? Maybe we will find an answer to this question in the heart of the Arizonian law makers who to have regressed.

  11. I find it ironic that Emmett was called a natural born leader and through his untimely and unfortunate demise he lead the world into change by being the beginning of the civil rights movement. I feel we have made some strides in the right direction, however, not enough because these types of crimes are still occuring and our government and some people choose to support laws that are regressive and reminders of why the civil rights movement began.

  12. Emmett till was not the first to go through such cruelty and racism. But his death was what sparked or shown the reality of racism that went on back in those days to the world. To be different or of color in those days were not a good thing. You were basically was an animal to majority of Anglo Saxons. Separate schools, water fountain, bathroom, seats, cups etc…was to me a symbol of “superiority” “fear” the Saxons thought they were better than black people. At that time the world was a totally weird place it seems to me. Where we (black and whites) couldn’t function together as one. We have come a mighty long way from those time but we still have some coming with Arizona and places up North. One day we will be one. But until then we need to try to be.