By: The JTM Team
This is not a new challenge; the control of whose history is told and how it is told has always been an exercise of power and privilege. But we are experiencing in new ways organized efforts to maintain a whitewashed story of the past by suppressing and eliminating cultural historical education. We are being encouraged, pressured even, to turn our faces away from the demanding historical truths that live in and around us.
The recently released movie Till issues a different invitation – the call to face the past and change the present. An intervention in the whitewashing of US history, this movie summons us to engage the story of Emmett Till, both his life and his heinous racist murder, more deeply and courageously. Perhaps more remarkably, it draws our attention to Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and her life-long struggle to address her son’s lynching and educate and motivate others to join the movement toward racial justice. In some ways, this movie continues Mamie Till-Mobley’s devastatingly powerful decision to hold an open-casket funeral for her son, so that the truth of his murder might be faced, and by being faced, begin the journey toward transformation.
As people of faith, we have a role to play in supporting one another in this transformational storytelling. The prophets remind us, facing the truth about the past and the present is sacred, inspired work to which we are all called. The light of truth is not meant to be covered: “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar or puts it under a bed; rather, one puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. So pay attention to how you listen…” (Luke 8:16-18). Noted educator and social activist Dr. Iva Carruthers challenges us each to respond to this call, saying, “Then and now, honest engagement and storytelling of the Emmett Till murder and the courage of his mother, Mamie Till, is a testimonial call to the soul of a nation. With eyes to see, ears to hear and the heart to act, the church can guide and convict this nation to live into its claims of justice for all.”
We have the chance to continue the sacred work of Mamie Till-Mobley and the movie Till offers us an opening for leaning into this story in new ways. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, along with the Center for Reparatory Justice, Transformation and Remediation, have curated a historical and faith-based guide to accompany you on this journey through truth-telling. Their hope is that this educational resource will ignite a faithful communal vision and inspire actions of change. As part of the Join the Movement toward Racial Justice initiative, the United Church of Christ is providing access to this study guide for local churches. Please note: we have secured licenses for 600 total downloads, so please be mindful and judicious in your downloading, so that as many communities as possible can access this resource.
We conclude with this word from Associate General Minister Rev. Traci Blackmon, to inspire us all to face the truth so that our world might be changed:
“As I watched the story of the 1955 lynching in Mississippi of Emmett Till, my eyes filled with tears as I reflected upon the story of this 14-year-old male child filled with joy and wonder, and the stories of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, and so many more too numerous to name, all killed with no accountability for their deaths. It only took the all-white male jury 67 minutes to acquit Emmett’s murderers, but it took 67 years from his death for this nation to gain the courage to sign into law the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act making lynching a federal hate crime. There have been more than 200 attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation, dating back to the presidency of William McKinley. A nation ignorant or impervious to its past condemns its own future. I pray that our church will courageously confront our shared history so authentic healing can begin. Till is an invitation into our truth and we offer this study guide as a trustworthy companion in conversation.”
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