Sunday, August 28, 2005

How Photos Became Icon of Civil Rights Movement

New York Times

Mutilated is the word most often used to describe the face of Emmett Till after his body was hauled out of the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. Inhuman is more like it: melted, bloated, missing an eye, swollen so large that its patch of wiry hair looks like that of a balding old man, not a handsome, brazen 14-year-old boy.

But if the lynching of Emmett Till was, as the historian David Halberstam called it, the first great media event of the civil rights movement, it became so largely because of the photographs of that monstrous face.

Today (August 28) is the 50th anniversary of the killing, an occasion for a new documentary film, re-examinations of the story in the news media and updates on the progress of a reopened investigation. The Clarion-Ledger, a newspaper in Jackson, Miss., reported last week, for example, that the body federal agents exhumed from Emmett's grave near Chicago in June had been positively identified through DNA.

But little has been said about the photographs of Emmett taken at his open-coffin viewing, which were first published nationally in Jet magazine and shunned by mainstream news organizations but have since become iconic, textbook images of the Jim Crow era. In "Eyes on the Prize," the PBS documentary on civil rights, Charles Diggs, a former congressman from Detroit, called the Jet photographs "probably one of the greatest media products in the last 40 or 50 years, because that picture stimulated a lot of anger on the part of blacks all over the country."

Chris Metress, the editor of "The Lynching of Emmett Till," a book that includes contemporary news accounts of the killing and trial, said: "You get testimony from white people coming of age at the time about how the case affected them, but you don't get them testifying, like countless blacks, that the Jet photo had this transformative effect on them, altering the way they felt about themselves and their vulnerabilities and the dangers they would be facing in the civil rights movement. Because white people didn't read Jet."

In the summer of 1955, Emmett left his home in Chicago to visit his relatives near the Delta town of Money, Miss. Unaccustomed to the timid attitudes of his cousins toward whites, Emmett whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. Four days later, the woman's husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, showed up at the house of Emmett's great-uncle in the middle of the night and asked for "the boy that did the talking."

Three days later his body, beaten and shot with a .45, was found in the river with a cotton gin fan wired around his neck. Weeks after the killing, Mr. Bryant and Mr. Milam were brought to trial but were acquitted by an all-white jury. The foreman said that the jury had accepted the defense argument that the body was so distorted that it could not be recognizable as Emmett Till and that it was, instead, a plant by civil rights groups. Mr. Bryant and Mr. Milam later admitted their guilt in a paid interview with a magazine writer.

Emmett's mother, Mamie, insisted on seeing her son's body. Then she decided to have an open-coffin viewing. Thousands of people attended. The image of young Emmett in a straw hat was taped to the coffin for comparison. She called her later book, co-written with Christopher Benson, "Death of Innocence."

Gus Savage, editor and publisher of The American Negro: A Magazine of Protest, said he had been the first to print a photograph of Emmett Till's body, taken by a schoolteacher named Lester Davis before the public viewing, when the corpse was on a slab in the funeral home. After the magazine hit the stands and sold out, Jet followed suit, publishing two photographs in its Sept. 15, 1955 issue - almost two weeks after the open viewing. The Chicago Defender followed two days later.

No mainstream publications, even those that editorialized against the acquittal, printed the photographs, Mr. Metress said. He said the difference in coverage in the white Southern papers and black papers was obvious from the headlines: "Were never into meanness, says accused men's mother," The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported. "Mother's tears greet son who died a martyr," The Chicago Defender replied.

When Jet's publisher, John H. Johnson, died this month, many remembered the decision to publish the pictures as one of his greatest moments.

Lawrence Aaron, a columnist for The Record, of Hackensack, N.J., recalled seeing the Jet issue in a waiting room: "On every trip to the dentist's office, we'd go through the same routine: Yes, it is for real. No, it's a Martian. Yes, it is fake. No, it can't be fake if it's printed in a magazine. Yes, it's human. No, it can't be - nobody would ever do that to a kid."

Simeon Booker, 87, the reporter for Jet, said David Jackson, now dead, had taken the coffin photos used by that magazine. "I thought at first it was a horrible looking picture." But, he said, it was the first time Jet had to reprint an issue to meet demand.

The challenges of covering the trial were so great that an editor who came to Mississippi collapsed and was sent home, Mr. Booker said.

"The first day we got there we went over to Till's grand-uncle's house and men in a car with guns forced us to stop," he said. After the trial, he said: "The first thing we had to think about was getting to Memphis and getting out of there, because we were marked men. And they put us all on one plane, the reporters and witnesses and everybody."

Mose Wright, the grand-uncle, and other blacks who testified for the prosecution left Mississippi for good.

The new documentary, "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till," credited with helping persuade prosecutors to reopen the Till investigation, is rooted in the reporting of the black newspapers at the time, tracking down witnesses originally named by reporters like L. Alex Wilson and James Hicks, who continued to investigate long after the trial was over. The filmmaker, Keith Beauchamp, 34, remembers seeing the coffin photographs when he was 10, and says their effect was indelible, just as it was for blacks in the 1950's. His parents sat him down and told him the story.

"It was an educational tool that was told to many African-American men, to teach us about the racism that exists in society today," he said. "This has been a major part of our makeup growing up in this country."

U.S. Republicans seek black voter support

What continues to be increasingly funny is all of the liberals blogs that I read on a regular basis NOT ONE, even mentions the issue of the black voters and their impact on the next election. This is an example of how liberals are remarkably blind to the issue of millions of what was deemed as “guarantee” votes potentially slipping through their fingers.
You libs just keep writing about how Bush and the republicans are in trouble, all of this shit on Iraq, and giving Cindy Sheehan all of this meaningless attention.
Some of you white people don’t pay attention. Black folks don’t give a fuck about Sheehan.
They don’t give a fuck about the war either because they are busy dodging their own bullets, struggling to get by and watching on TV crime drama cases like Holliway receive obscene amounts of attention while folks in the hood are ignored.
Young black women go missing all the damm time but they don’t receive daily coverage on the Today show and CNN.
The more you Democrats give people like Sheehan all of this bullshit attention, millions of dollars going to promote this fucken media circus and the more you liberals continue to ignore the issues that are important to Black Americans and other minority groups, health care, job opportunities, educational opportunities you will lose a valuable base of support.

Bloggers are suppose to be the grass roots of 411, but you liberal bloggist just regurgitate the same crap on each others blogs. The only thing you know is what the Daily Kos tells you.
Which frankly Snoop is counting on.

By Brian DeBose
The Washington Times

WASHINGTON -- Blacks in both major political parties have felt "marginalized" for decades, but Republicans hope a new strategy will help them reach out to black voters and politicians.

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican Party, formed the "Give Us a Chance and We'll Give You a Choice" strategy after the 2004 election showed gains for President Bush among black voters.

More than a dozen black politicians are running on the Republican ticket in 2006 for Senate and House seats, governorships and other statewide races.

It could turn out to be the most diverse Republican slate since the mid-1990s, said J.C. Watts Jr., chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee. Mr. Watts won a House seat in Oklahoma in 1994, becoming the first black Republican to reach Congress since Sen. Edward W. Brooke III, Massachusetts Republican, who served from 1967 to 1979.

"I've often said that most black people don't think alike, most black people just vote alike, and if Republicans understood black people better, you would have 70 to 75 percent of black people voting Republican," Mr. Watts said.

Mr. Mehlman's mantra that "the party of Lincoln will not be whole until more African-Americans come back home" has created a movement that black Republicans said they will use to make significant gains in the largely monolithic, Democratic-voting base.

"The black vote is the most marginalized in the country" because Democrats know that no matter what their candidates look like or say, blacks will vote for them, and Republicans will find a way to win without them, Mr. Watts said.

Black Democrats said the change would be welcome.

"I think it is a great thing that both Democrats and Republicans are going to compete for our votes," said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

He said as long as both parties are willing to "substantively" address the disparities between blacks and whites and virtually every other minority, "it is good for America."

Retired Army Lt. Col. Frances P. Rice, chairwoman of the National Black Republican Association (NBRA), said her group aims to "enlighten" black voters about the Republican Party and make the black community one that supports two parties.

She said the Democrats' insistence that blacks rely on socialism -- welfare, public housing, public schools -- is destroying the community.

"Blacks after 40 years of Democrat control are complaining about the same things: poorly performing schools, dilapidated public housing," Col. Rice said. "Socialism has not worked anywhere it has been tried. Why should we do it here?"

Groups such as NBRA are getting their message across with candidates like Richard Holt, a 25-year-old Republican who is running for the House seat in Ohio being vacated by Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democrat.

He said the time for black diversity in both parties is now and that the movement will be successful despite attacks by Democratic activists.

"It is difficult because of people like Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory calling us 'whitey' and tyrants when all we want to do is make sure that our families are strong, that we own our own businesses and that our children get a good education," Mr. Holt said.

A victory for Mr. Holt would be historic on several fronts. He would become the youngest man ever elected to Congress. But more important, Mr. Holt said, is an opportunity to be a role model for young black men.

"Typically, black men my age are not politically involved and not Republican, and I am. More blacks are moving from the inner city to the suburbs. We have a good education, we have good jobs and we can see now that we can succeed, and socialism is not the answer," he said.

Mr. Watt said he would welcome any new black Republican congressmen into the CBC.

"I just hope it is not a public relations game. ... The issue is how we address the issues facing black Americans, not putting up a public face or what someone looks like," he said.