Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Not so long ago, really.

Yesterday, Joe Posnanski tweeted this:

In case you don't know, Emmet Till was murdered in Money, Mississippi when he was fourteen. The motive for the killing was that Mr. Till, an African-American, had allegedly engaged in flirtatious behavior towards a white woman. You can click the link for more details but suffice it to say that Mr. Till was brutally beaten and tortured before he was murdered. Mr. Till's mother, Mamie Till, insisted that Mr. Till's funeral be held open casket so that the world would see how Mr. Till had been treated.

Mrs. Till's decision to have an open casket was not without effect.  David Jackson's photograph from Mr. Till's funeral is one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential images of all time.  That photo and the story of Mr. Till's death helped galvanize people to participate in the struggle for equal rights for African-Americans.

As Mr. Posnanski writes, people have the view that Mr. Till was murdered a long time ago. I suppose we have that feeling because the pictures of Mr. Till are all in black and white. Because black and white photographs were the norm from the invention of photography until the 1960s, we tend to lump black and white photographs into a general historical category of "olden days." But, as Mr. Posnanski notes, sportscasters Marv Albert and Digger Phelps were born the same year as Mr. Till. In fact, Mr. Phelps was born three weeks before Mr. Till.

Mr. Posnanski's tweet made me wonder what non-sportscaster famous people were also born the same year as Mr. Till. A by-no-means-exhaustive list includes: Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development and Malory Archer on Archer); Joan Baez; Faye Dunaway; Neil Diamond; Aaron Neville; Scott Glenn (currently appearing in the TV shows The Defenders and The Leftovers); Mike Love of The Beach Boys; scientist and famous atheist Richard Dawkins; Pete Rose; Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts; George Clinton; David Crosby; Paul Simon; and Bob Dylan.  Back in his protest-singer days, Mr. Dylan wrote a song about Mr.Till.  You can look at a more fulsome list here.

As Mr. Posnanski points out, it's hard to say that something that happened within the lifespan of these folks that are still acting, writing, broadcasting, and/or touring is something from a long time ago. It would be nice to end this post on a high note like "look at how far we've come! We don't lynch people any more!" Maybe it is just me but that high note sounds flat today. Yesterday Arizona Senator John McCain, a man who once endured years of imprisonment and torture because of his service in the United States Navy and is now suffering from brain-cancer, flew to Washington specifically for the purpose of casting a vote to allow the Senate to decide whether the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.  Put another way, it was a vote to debate taking a big piece out of our country's safety net. As far as I can tell Senator McCain did so out of a sense of tribalism, i.e., he wanted to give his team (the Republican Party) a win. A similar form of tribalism is perhaps behind President Trump's recent tweets regarding transgender people serving in the armed forces. Are those things as bad as Mr. Till's murder? No, of course they are not. But on days like today it feels like we still have a long way to go.


  1. It's an interesting perspective on time to think of Emmet Till's death as recent because other people born in the same year he was born are still on TV.

    On the other hand, you might get a different feel if you think about other people who died in 1955 -- well before either of us was born. One example: Albert Einstein. To put a more "legal" spin on it, legendary judge Learned Hand was still alive in 1955 (he died in 1961). Felix Frankfurter was still on the Supreme Court.

    Another way to look at it is to think of people who hadn't yet been born yet in 1955. One example: Barack Obama (born in 1961).

  2. Good post. We have a very long way to go.


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