The Black National Anthem begins with “Lift every voice.” So while listening to so many voices that need to be heard, I began to share my photos and the short poems they inspired. It means a lot to me when people say they are lifted by them. I’m including a few here for those who missed them on my Facebook page or want to forward them to friends. Following the three picture/poems are some thoughts I hope you will take just a few minutes to consider.
Hard times sometimes
Make day feel like night
Sorrow and confusion
Steal her dreams of flight
She summons the strength to grieve
And courage to wear her heart on her sleeve
‘Til on her wing a sun does rise
That dares to bring the truth to light
And chase the shadows from our eyes
So she can sing with all her might
They called you a worm
As you climbed the mountain
Inch by inch
Day after day
But a caterpillar
Is what you were
With a dream in your heart
And wings on the way
To have a friend
Who’s not like me
Is to swim in the sky
And fly in the sea
Yesterday, thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate and renew MLK’s call for racial equality, made there 57 years ago. It was also the 65th anniversary of the murder of Emmet Till.
I had read about the fourteen-year old boy, but it really tore at my heart when I heard the story from B.B. King. (Those of you who’ve read my book know I had the good fortune of a friendship with Mr. King from 1978 until his death. I wrote about other stories he told, but not this one. I think he would want me to share it now.) Emmett Till was visiting from Chicago in 1955 when he was falsely accused of touching a white woman, brutally tortured, and murdered. That was in Money, Mississippi, just 19 miles from Itta Bena, where B.B. King was born. King was 29 and a traveling musician by then, but was traumatized by the murder, knowing it could have happened to him or any of his family or friends. How do I know? King was a star, King of the Blues, loved and respected around the world by the time I knew him, decades after the incident. Yet I could see fear in his eyes and hear pain in his voice when he spoke of it. No matter how successful one becomes, the wounds from that kind of trauma never completely heal. B.B. was somehow able to resist bitterness and to direct his pain into a productive life. Others are not so lucky, with fear and loss turning into anger and destructiveness, toward themselves and others.
Yes, it could easily have been young King who was lied about and lost his life – the life that went on to bless and change the world with his music, warmth, and grace. What we will never know is this – what might Emmett Till have become and given the world if he had been allowed to live?
I’ve had the privilege of knowing, teaching, and loving many children – of many colors. I’ve seen the potential in every child, and sometimes felt the joy of seeing that potential fulfilled or the profound sadness of seeing it lost. Joy or sadness not just for the child, but for myself, for you, for our society. Perhaps that’s why this video tugs my heartstrings in so many directions.
The men who committed the heinous crime of killing Emmett Till were never brought to justice, even though it was clear who they were and what they did. It was the tremendous courage of Emmett’s mother, insisting the world see her dead son, brutalized beyond recognition, and those who dared report it, and those who did not avert their eyes from the horror, who sparked the civil rights movement that eventually brought about real change.
Sixty-five years later, we in northern states can no longer claim innocence and look down on the stories of racism in the South. The cold stare of the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes was a wake-up call. We, the public, have the power to make that image and so many others catalysts for change, as Mamie Till did with her son’s.
The president is trying hard to scare you into forgetting what the ongoing protests are about. He is the arsonist who wants to race in to put out the fire and claim to be a hero.
I admire the courage of those who march, especially in this time of pandemic, knowing there are those who would inject violence into protests. I choose to speak and write. Others may choose only to vote, but that will make all the difference. It is very clear that the party in power now has not the will nor the courage to do what we all know is right – to confront the complex systemic and personal racism that is so destructive to individuals and our society.
If you are inclined to unsubscribe from my blog, wanting to avoid anything political, I hope you will hang in here with me. My next letter/blog will be about my sunfish friend Greenie, and will announce his television debut!
(To get a closer look at Emmett Till’s story, watch Gayle King’s interview of the historian who interviewed the woman whose lies led to the boy’s gruesome torture and death.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWHDXchWW54