Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Prince and the Cotton Gin Fan

By Lindell Singleton
Email the author at mise_en_scene2001@yahoo.com

"If you have to get on your knees and bow when a white person goes past, do it willingly."

-Mamie Till

“I hated the white people who did it, but I hated the Negroes even more for not fighting back.

I hated them all.”- Former Resident of Money, Mississippi

"It seems like nothin' good ever happens up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billie Jo Mcallister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge." -Bobbie Gentry


My second son, Ryan, just signed a college scholarship to play football in Mississippi. We went over to Jackson to sign his National Letter of Intent. It’s ironic that my son is going to live in Mississippi.

My Dad—who pastored a Pentecostal church for 27 years-- said that if Christ returned to Earth and was in Mississippi he just have to ‘take his chances with salvation because he would never again set foot in the Magnolia State.’ Maybe it had something to do with Emmett Louis Till.

A little history lesson: Mr. Till, a fourteen year old Chicagoan, was visiting Money, Mississippi in the summer of 1955.

As the story goes, on a dare from one of his friends, he said “hey baby” or whistled at a girl—a white girl—as he was leaving Bryant’s Grocery Store and Meat Market.

The angered and offended young woman told her family—that tragic decision set actions in motion that ended Mr. Till’s young life. On the night of August 28, 1955, good ol’ boys from the town dragged Mr.Till from his home, beat him until he was unrecognizable, shot him in the head with a .45 caliber weapon, affixed a 75-pound cotton gin fan to his neck, and hurled his body from a bridge into the swift current of the Tallahatchee River. (Yes, Billie Jo McAllister’s bridge!) His body was found three days later.

His funeral on 6 September 1955,drew attention from as far away as France.

Every black man older than 40 knows the name, Emmett Till. I learned of Mr. Till’s plight long before the names Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, and Fredrick Douglass entered my consciousness.

What kind of people could do this to a young boy? What kind of place would allow this to happen—and then, acquit the killers after just 67 minutes of deliberation--offering righteous indignation that were even be charged. He was just a nigga’, after all.

No wonder my Dad refused to return to Mississippi. He didn’t even want his remains buried there. But Malcolm X’s family house was burned down in Omaha, Nebraska…far North of the Mason-Dixon line.

It leaves me wondering: Was it the place or the people?

Sarajevo, at one time, was a cultural and artistic flashpoint of Europe. It was full of cafes, bookshops, hard-working people and progressive thought. The Olympics, for god’s sake, were in Sarajevo. Then, the pot of race, religion, and ethnicity started to boil…the killing started. What is Sarajevo today? How is it a better place? Did people make the place evil, or did the place make the people do evil things. I just wonder.

Mississippi is beautiful. As my son and I walked the tree-lined campus, and soaked up the beautiful Mississippi evenings, I had a jarring flashback to Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. What a confluence of evil, in a place that seems so full of old world charm…do the people bring the evil, or is there something in the air, water or soil that causes good people to go bad.

Things were going nicely for Adam and Eve until they ate from the tree.How does this descent into evil occur?

Do you just don’t wake up one morning and say to your friend,“Ok, the next colored teenager that talks to any girl gets a goddamn cotton gin fan wrapped around his black neck and tossed in the Tallahatchee river, got it?”

Long ago, I gave up believing that people were fundamentally good. One can choose to be a good individual, but the drag of our selfish, self-centered, ‘me-first approach to the world’ ultimately prevails. What other explanation exists for beating a young boy until he was barely recognizable, then tying a cotton gin fan around his neck?

There is a park in South L.A. where I used to play basketball. Back then it was called, Manchester Park. I had just finished one of my 500-shot routines, trying to pattern my game after Oscar Robertsons’. As I reached the North end of the park, three guys stopped me.

They were from a gang called the “Park Boys,” a collective that would ultimately fold into the Crips. They beat me until the blood ran from my nose. And then, they stopped. I was on my knees, trying to get up, and and old lady pushing a grocery cart from ABC market stopped and looked at me. She didn’t say anything, but shook her head and kept going. I stumbled to my feet and touched my cheekbone as it was starting to bruise and swell. I thought: “Why are they doing this to me?”

Did Emmitt Till ever ask that question while he was getting beat? I wish there were some way—like in the film Minority Report—that I could watch this crime take place… through some sort of hidden time machine/security camera device. What were Emmitt’s final words?

Did he plead with this crew of murderering savages to spare his life? Why, at some point, didn’t one of the murderers say, “Enough, the boy has learned his lesson.” Surely, talking to a white girl doesn’t mandate being thrown in the river. Was there no decency in any of these men? Were they bereft of all humanity and goodness? But maybe there was just something in the air that day. Or, maybe there is something in the water and soil of Money, Mississippi:

Like Emmitt Till’s blood, for starters.

The great Ossie Davis called Malcolm X a black prince…a shining black prince. When I look into his soft, reflective eyes of Emmitt Till I am reminded that he, too, was a black prince. One whose life ended because of reasons that are, without question, inexplicable...

I am forever saddened at the death of this boy. Think of the unfullfilled dreams that sank to bottom of the river with his broken body.

The world is an evil place. We delude ourselves when we think it isn’t. What goodness have you brought to the world today that will balance this oppressing storm of evil?

10 comments:

  1. hey my names mark i live in c.a. your letter really inspired the best of me i dont get it either do peole just get up and go on a killing spree or what if you want to talk my email is lilnug15@yahoo.com peace out

    ReplyDelete
  2. Emmit Till was a fourteen year old child that died a horrible death ,but I am not going to take people talking about my Great State " Mississippi" any more. Just because some sick , mean , heartless people kill that child does not mean that the entire State had the same veiws. Tell me why White people has to be punish because a few igorant people murder a child. I am not going to take the blame of Slavery any more. Let's take the facts it was the African Tribal Chiefs that sold their own people to the White Dutch for gold. Then the Slaves was sold to Southern Plantation owners to plant the fields and work in the homes. Abraham Lincold freed the Slaves in 1867 and it has been a up hill battle. The truth was the Southern Plantation owners took care of the Slaves and the Northern Yankees threw them out to fend for their ownselves. I or my father or my paternal grandfather have tender hearts and could not hurt anyone physically , but I am not going to pay for the sins of some ignorant people. Murder is in Chicago , Calfornia, and Washington D.C. ,but no public attention is call to those States. And if the tabel would have been turned and some Blacks would have killed my son I personally would hunt them down and I promise you Justice would be serve. I am sick of hearing about the Murders in Mississippi being over White murdering Blacks when in realtity more Blacks kill Blacks in Canton Mississippi in 1999. In Canton Mississippi a 14 year old and 17 year old Black sisters killed a 16 year Black girl with a screwdrive by stabbing her 40 times and slashing her throat over a boy. That is victious. Like I say why Emmitt Till died a violent death was a tradey . I understand the story goes that he took a dare to whistle at a white girl or say Hey baby. It says in the Bible to gaze upon a woman is lust. Why did he not whistle at a Black girl. Sometimes our fates are by our own choices. Why do Black people think that can push their selves on White people? Like the so call pentecostal preacher that say he would rather not step foot by in Mississippi . It tells me that his heart is not a Christan and he hold s hate in his heart. Mississippi does not need him to step foot back in Mississippi if he feels that way. The men that kill Emmitt Till should go to prison or the death pentaly. I was raise in Simpson County Mississippi and my stepmothe taught me to treat people like I wanted to be treated . I will tell White and Black people what I think in a minute and I dont walk on egg shells around Black people. Like I say some of the Black / White people that died in 1964 was by making the wrong choices. Like my daddy told me if you know a rattle snake is going to bite you then why go around one. Just like the Freedom Riders that thought they would come to Neshoba County Mississipp and make a name for them selves and they were aware of the mean violent men they were dealing with. They chose to come out of their own States to interfere in Mississippi and Alabama to make a change and no one ever mention they trigger their own fates. It as a tradey that anyone would kill the trio or bomb the Chruch in Birhingham. The men that did that are cruel and mean and God will deal with them and my hearts go out to the mothers of the Trio l the four little girls in the Chruch in Birhingham and Emmitt Till. Like I said If You Dont Love My Great State of Mississipppi there are highways going in and going out.

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  6. I haved to say that I enjoyed your blog. It was also very interesting to read the comments left by other people. I have to say that I commend the brave people who have fought for right and freedom for all people. Any thinking person will know and understand that it doesn't matter if the young 14-year-old whistled or said "hey baby." His death was not justified and were clearly a gross loss for us all. And yes, it seems to me that the Mississippi people who let this happen should be ashamed. Vengeance is the Lord's, and they will be punished by Him. Black people must be brave and no, we should not have to live in fear, even today. There are snakes all around both minorities and people of other races who seek justice. I say, stamp out the snakes as Jesus would have done.

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