because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mamie Till

Mamie Till was a pretty eighteen-year-old girl when she married a handsome young man -- also eighteen -- and immediately became pregnant with a son, Emmett, born nine months later. It could have been the beginning of a storybook life, but it wasn't.

First of all, the marriage didn't work out. Her husband was unfaithful and abusive and wound up having to enlist in the Army to avoid going to jail. But Till didn't let it get her down. She had her son to focus on and he was her reason for living.

Fourteen years later, in 1955, while visiting his uncle in Money, Mississippi, Emmett, the beloved son of his mother, was brutally murdered after he was accused of being rude to a White woman. He was beaten, tortured, shot in the head, and sunk in a pond with barbed wire wrapped around his neck and a cotton gin fan weighting down his lifeless body. When she saw her son's garishly mutilated form, the broken-hearted mother was beyond devastated. But this terrible moment was when Mamie Till became an in-your-face woman.

Everyone she knew encouraged her to hide her son away in a closed casket, but Till wouldn't even consider it. "I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby," she later said. "Everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till." So Till used the broken body of her only child to give an entire nation a much needed object lesson.

The day of the funeral, fifty-thousand people filed by the casket with Emmett's misshapen body inside it. And within a matter of months, in-your-face woman Rosa Parks had refused to move from her seat in a Montgomery, Alabama, segregated bus and Martin Luther King, Jr., had set a bus boycott in motion, two acts that are often seen as the beginning of the civil rights era of U.S. history. The courage of a grief-stricken mother standing firm in her in-your-facedness turned a tragedy into transformation for millions of Americans.

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