Emmett Till's Lynching Ignited a Civil Rights Movement. Historians Say George Floyd's Death Could Do the SameHistorians in the News
tags: civil rights, African American history, lynching, media
The deaths of Till and Floyd, in particular, have been "points of clarity" in a much longer storyline, said Amy Yeboah, assistant professor of Africana studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
"This has been a 400-year connect-the-dot picture. Instances have all connected in some form or fashion in helping us understand the hurt and pain of black people," Yeboah said.
Both moments have been marked by the circulation of horrific images of death, said Brandon Marcell Erby, who studies the rhetorical work of Till-Mobley and recently earned a Ph.D. in English and African American and Diaspora Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Erby said he sees a parallel in Till's open casket and photos of Till's body with the video evidence documenting the deaths of Arbery and Floyd.
"Now, with the videos, we see the exhibited corpse," Erby said.
Keith Beauchamp, whose documentary, "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till," helped inspire the Justice Department to reopen the Till case in 2004, said he could bring himself to watch the video of Floyd's final moments only once. The ubiquitous images of black death, replaying again and again on Facebook and Twitter, have caused him racial fatigue.
"I've seen death time and time again with the work I do," Beauchamp said. "But nothing has ever hit me harder than the image of George Floyd. When I saw that image, it brought me back to when I first saw the photograph of Emmett Till at the age of 10. And it was something that I could not really wrap my head around. And I had the same reaction when I saw the officer’s knee on George Floyd's neck."
Beauchamp said seeing Till's photo drove him to pursue a life of civil rights work, and he wasn't the only one.
Many of the founding members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, who led the sit-in movement, were young people around Till's age who were spurred to get involved in civil rights work following his murder, said Davis Houck, co-author of "Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press" and founder of the Emmett Till Archive at Florida State University.
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