Emmett Till wearing a hat
Emmett Till | Source: AP

Remembering Till: The Tilt That Ended Jim Crow

On June 4, Rep Donalds incited Americans by making comments that have been seen as a romanticization of the Jim Crow era. For over six decades, Jim Crow laws led to the lynching and intimidation of Blacks including Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy, whose death is believed to have galvanized the 1957 Civil Rights Acts.

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by Ìbùkúnolúwa Dàda

In 2022, the Nigerian-Born Chinonye Chukwu, directed Till. The movie tells the story of the lynching of Emmett Till during the Jim Crow Era and his mother’s pursuit of justice. Till was a fourteen-year-old who had gone down south for the first time to Mississippi to visit his cousins before his brutal lynching in 1955. I saw the movie in 2022 and I was halfway through before I remembered why I avoid such movies—I become so emotional that I sometimes do not find the words to describe it. This was how I felt when I heard the words of Republican Congressman, Byron Donalds of Florida on Jim Crow.  

In addition to heartbreak, many Blacks must have had a similar experience when they heard another Black man say,  “You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together. During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively.”

Representing Donald Trump in his presidential campaign, Donalds made this statement on June 4 at a Black voter outreach event in Philadelphia. While Donalds has received many backlashes from the media and Americans, to put things in perspective, it is important to remember what Jim Crow means to Black Americans. 

What Jim Crow Means to African-Americans 

After the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery in 1865, the breakaway southern Confederate States, which were known for slavery, were having issues reconciling with the reality of free ‘Black’ people. The states were:  South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina

These States passed several laws between the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century that enforced racial segregation with Blacks on the receiving end. These laws were known generally as Jim Crow laws and the name ‘Jim Crow’ was taken from a song-and-dance caricature role played by Thomas D. Rice. At the time, it was widely used as a derogatory term for an African-American—a befitting name for the purpose of the law. Nevertheless, the core idea of Jim Crow has been traced back to the North

 The Jim Crow laws segregated whites and Blacks from using the same public facilities based on a ‘separate but equal’ doctrine which turned out to be far from reality. Double standards were applied as white facilities received better funding resulting in the cases of state-owned Black schools lacking needed facilities such as the library, terrible transport for Blacks, and so on. 

The laws were not limited to this but included mass disenfranchisement of Black people. Guess which state was the first to pass this one? Yes. Mississippi—the same state where Till was lynched for saying a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, looked like a movie star. However, she lied when Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley took her to court, alongside her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brought J.W. Milam. 

She told the all-white jury Emmett had propositioned here, dramatizing it before the court but later allegedly recanted to the historian, Timothy Tyson, in a 2008 interview. In 1956, the brothers admitted to murdering Till in an article in the paid Look Magazine. 

Intimidations in diverse forms including lynchings were common. They were mainly perpetrated by white supremacist cults such as  Ku Klux Klan, White League, and Red Shirts to deter Blacks during elections or just to show white supremacy as in the case of Till. 

Simply put: To the African-American people, Jim Crow signifies oppression, deep derogation, bile-bigotry, and similar words you may think of or make up. Though Blacks were indeed ‘together’ according to Donalds, this was only due to the fact they were forced to be so. Blacks and colored people were rendered as second-class citizens and not ‘worthy’ of mingling with the whites—a ‘privilege’ Donalds now enjoys as a husband to a white woman, thanks to the NAACP, SCLC, and many individuals who never romanticized Jim Crow. 

How Did Jim Crow End? 

Though there had been previous efforts to stamp out Jim Crow like the Civil Rights Act of 1875, it was the NAACP that catalyzed the beginning of its journey to the mortician. NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and it was founded in 1909.

The NAACP believed in the way of the law, using litigation and legislation as the major tools of its activism. This worked wonders in its rights and one of its major successes was the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. 

It was the following year that Till was lynched for complimenting a woman’s beauty and his mother, yielding to the NAACP turned an activist. Though she lost the case to bring the killers to justice, Till’s case is seen as a turning point in achieving the Civil Rights Act of 1957 which overturned majority of the Jim Crow Laws. 

Nevertheless, The NAACP-birthed Southern Christian Leaders Conference (SCLC) led by Martin Luther King Jr, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, James Baldwin, James Bevel, James Forman, Nina Simeone and many others are remembered more for their participation in the Selma to Montgomery marches and contribution to the freedom of the Black People. 

For more than 60 years thereafter, Emmett’s family hoped Bryant would recant her story while she was still living. But Emmett Till’s accuser Bryant died April 25th, 2023 without recanting.

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