Jackson was all-in for the 68th Emmett Till Commemoration Weekend festivities 

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Attorney Malik Shabazz calls for massive public turnout for Nov. 14 “goon squad” sentencing. Victim Eddie Parker, left, and Nation of Islam representative Abram Muhammad, right, stand beside Shabazz. (Advocate photo: Joshua Martin)

Friday, August 25th through Monday, August 28th saw a whirlwind of events sponsored primarily by the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. They went from the Mississippi State Capital Building to Tougaloo College to the Two Museums to the Mississippi Delta to New Hope Baptist Church to the Jackson Convention Center. They involved a multiplicity of celebrity-types, as well as local citizens. The majority of the events took place on Friday the 25th. 

Scott McDowell and Teri Watts were the major coordinators.

On Friday morning at 10 a.m., City Councilwoman Angelique Lee was on hand at the Capitol Building to present proclamations from the Jackson City Council and from Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declaring the weekend “Emmett Till Weekend in Jackson.” The proclamations and Lee’s comments linked the lynching of Emmett Till to the continuing racism and racial violence in the state and around the country. 

The city proclamations were followed by proclamations from the state legislature. State Representatives Zakiya Summer and DeKeither Stamps spoke on behalf of their colleagues in the state legislature, in general, and the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, in particular. As in the case of the city presentations, the state representatives linked the Till murder and the movement that it sparked to contemporary racism and racial violence. Stamps also informed citizens that bills had been introduced each session seeking an apology for the state’s actions surrounding the murder of Till and the subsequent miscarriage of justice that allowed Roy Bryant, J.W. Milam, Carolyn Bryant, and other unnamed conspirators to remain free citizens.

Emmett Till Foundation founder and president Deborah Watts and film-maker Keith Beauchamp expressed their appreciation to the city and state for the reception. After brief one-on-one responses to questions from the media, the entourage announced that it would lead a tour through the Mississippi Delta on Saturday and was then off to Tougaloo College.

The Tougaloo College Communications Department organized a late-morning panel discussion for the commemoration. The panelists included Deborah Watts; Keith Beauchamp; educator Fred Zollo, who had aided in the production of the film “Till”; actor Jalyn Hall, who portrayed Emmett Till in the movie; and Tougaloo student Julian Miller. While the panel discussion was wide-ranging, a clear focus was on showing the kind of research that went into making the film and underscoring the importance of such film work in helping to bring about change, including changes in the criminal legal system. The event was lively and informative for both the student body and the community visitors.

The day concluded by a registration-only meal, reception, showing of the film “Till,” and panel discussion at the Two Museums of Mississippi. The film focused primarily on humanizing the Till family, contextualizing the social environment, and the courageous role of Ms. Mamie Till in dramatizing the horror of racial hatred and how necessary it is for people to come together to defeat it.

The panel discussion which followed the showing was another excellent example of history and social teaching. The panelists included Keith Beauchamp, Deborah Watts, Jalyn Hall, Flonzie Brown Wright, Ashley Norwood, and Jaribu Hill. Each spoke with enthusiasm, authority, and a great deal of information in responding to the questions posed by moderator Anya Dillard. 

Beauchamp related his early acquaintance and long-term involvement with Ms. Mamie Till Mobley and the critical role that played in terms of developing the two films he produced on the Emmett Till murder. Watts emphasized the importance of listening and of acting boldly in dealing with the critical issue of combatting racism. 

Hill stressed the failures of the system in the entire series of events relative to the lynching and the trial, pointing to the need for more courageous citizens. Wright related incidences of racism and racial violence involving members of her family and the need for continuing struggle. 

Norwood explained the role that can and must be played by the media and film industries in accurately portraying Black history and through that effort, affecting change. Hall discussed the tremendous amount that he had learned through the portrayal of Emmett Till and his commitment to continuing to make a difference.

On Saturday, the foundation sponsored a trip through the Mississippi delta. This event enabled citizens to view first hand the significant and specific places involved in the Emmett Till story – Bryant’s Grocery Store, the point on the Tallahatchie River where Till’s body was recovered, the Till Museum in Glendora, and the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner. 

It is unfortunate that the site of the plantation barn is not played up more because based upon later verified data, the murder trial should have taken place in Sunflower County and involved more than just Bryant and Milam since the barn was where Till was likely killed.

Events on Sunday included a special religious service at New Hope Baptist Church, which was the home church of Medgar Evers. Members of the Foundation and the Till family were special guests. Attention was given for the need to continue combatting racism in this society.

The Jackson Convention Center served as the venue for the final rally against racial violence. It featured a variety of speakers, including Priscilla Sterling Till, who announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and Dr. Cornell West, who stated that he was not there to talk about his presidential candidacy, but the problem of racism and racial violence.

Monday, August 28th, which marked the anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder, was the day that a new historical marker was erected on the Tallahatchie River by the Department of the Interior. It culminated the weekend of the Emmett Till Lynching Commemoration and helped explain why there was such as extended commemoration on the 68th anniversary. 

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Jackson was all-in for the 68th Emmett Till Commemoration Weekend festivities 

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
September 5, 2023