They had to put a rope around Emmett Till’s neck to put his 1,000 pound statue in place.
The scene scared Willie Williams.
He said he asked the crew to get everything ready the day before Friday’s unveiling if they could lift the statue by the waist instead. It was for Williams like they were lynching Emmett again.
“It turned me off when they brought it up,” said Williams, who retired after 30 years of full-time employment with the city of Greenwood but still works part-time for its recycling program in street edge.
There were other chills on Friday for the hundreds of people – mostly black but enough white to reflect another small sign of racial progress – who turned out to see the world’s first and only statue dedicated to the accidental martyr of the civil rights. But they were chills caused by other kinds of emotions – joy, satisfaction, hope.
As I headed into the ceremony, I wasn’t sure of the mood.
The murder of Emmett Till in 1955 is hard to digest. Although there are conflicting accounts as to how cool he was with Carolyn Bryant at Money’s store, there is no room for interpretation as to how inhumanely he was treated for breaking the taboo that the black men – or in this case a precocious 14-year-old – did not play with the white women of the Deep South. It was barbed wire, not a rope tied around his neck, and his body was already lifeless when he was thrown into the river and not hung from a tree, but it was a lynching in every way. of sight.
Friday could have been a day of racial recrimination, a time to resurrect decades of grievances, hurts and injustices, and use Emmett as a catalyst to release pent up anger.
But there was none of that. The atmosphere was festive. The first song I heard as I approached Rail Spike Park – the Motown classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – was an indication of what lay ahead.
The band from Greenwood High played a marching tune, a nimble young woman danced around the still-masked statue, and the speakers — Black and White — hit most of the right notes. They spoke of unity, of honestly remembering the past, including its darkest times, of acknowledging the dignity of all, of working together to make this community and this state a better place.
The Emmett Till statue is largely a black achievement. There is no doubt about it. His $150,000 state funding came about because longtime state senator David Jordan pushed him. The majority-black Leflore County Board of Supervisors, with Reginald Moore at the helm, and the majority-black Greenwood City Council supported the project, spending 18 months to complete it.
But there was also some white involvement, notably the hands of the artist who sculpted the 9ft bronze, showing Emmett in a joyous pose – not in that bloated, tortured, lifeless pose that became so famous due of his testimony on the cruelties of segregation.
I hope other white people in this community will see the statue of Emmett Till not as a reminder of an episode they wish was forgotten, but rather as a talisman for greater racial understanding.
If they had stood with me at the unveiling of the statue and seen this sea of people spontaneously drawn to it, they might have better understood why Emmett Till is such a significant figure in the Afro-African experience. Americans in this community and elsewhere.
His death was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. When Rosa Parks, less than four months later, refused to give up her seat on a separate bus from Montgomery, Alabama, she said it was because of Emmett Till. From there it went on and on, including great acts of bravery, a fair amount of bloodshed, and constant legal and social pressure until America decided it would no longer tolerate a racial caste system that betrayed the founding ideals of this nation.
My first observation is that there’s no one reaction to seeing Emmett on that pedestal, his fingers touching the brim of his hat, unsure if he’s just putting it on or about to take it off. .
His statue may be a reminder of past sins. This can be a ray of hope for the future. It can be something difficult to put into words.
As the statue lay in a trailer on Thursday, waiting to be erected, Willie Williams looked down on it and had to take a step back. The 55-year-old black man had heard of Emmett Till all his life, but said it felt like meeting him for the first time.
“I wanted to tell him, ‘I’m sorry for what happened. I’m really sorry,'” Williams recalled.
This conversation can still take place. As Williams prepared to leave, he said he would be back for another visit, just him and Emmett.
– Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or [email protected]