Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 20, 2004
Mother Mobley tells Mary's story too
Light One Candle
"Life is fragile - handle with prayer."
I couldn't agree more with the sentiment, but I have to admit I've always found the saying a little, well, soft. But I've changed my mind since I found out that it was a favourite motto of one of the strongest women I've ever heard of: Mamie Till Mobley.
Remember the name? If not, you'll probably know the name of her son, Emmett Till.
Mother Mobley, as she was generally known, died peacefully in 2003. Her only child died in 1955 and there was nothing peaceful about it.
Emmett Till was murdered by racists in Mississippi because, as a visitor from the North, he didn't understand the way things were in the South then. He didn't grasp that the punishment for a 14-year-old black youngster whistling at a white woman would be kidnap, torture and death.
Now, 50 years later, I've been reminded of the grim facts because they have made headlines again. A few months ago, the U. S. Department of Justice and the state of Mississippi reopened the investigation.
Although the two men who were tried and found "not guilty" by a white jury have since died, there appears to be evidence others were involved. Whether more prosecutions are possible, only time will tell.
Unfortunately, Mamie Till Mobley won't be here to see if justice is served. Yet, it was her desire for justice that left a legacy that resounds today. It was she who demanded her son's body be returned to Chicago for burial. It was she who decided "everybody needed to know what happened to Emmett Till" - and insisted on an open casket so people could see the battered, mutilated body of the child she reluctantly sent off for a summer vacation with cousins and who never came home.
More than 50,000 people viewed the grisly remains. A photo of the youngster, beaten almost beyond recognition, shocked the country and the world. The long-overdue demand of black Americans for racial justice gathered momentum. Just a few months later, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., she said she was thinking of Emmett Till.
In 1989, Mother Mobley, speaking at the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, said, "When my eyes were a fountain of tears, the realization came that Emmett's death was not a personal experience for me to hug to myself and weep, but it was a worldwide awakening that would change history.
"Emmett's death was the impetus for the civil rights movement in America. It was also the spark that ignited unrest in all the world where injustices are being perpetrated."
Emmett's mother changed her own life. She went to college and then graduate school, spending over 20 years as a reading specialist and teacher in the Chicago public schools. She founded an acting group for young people, concentrating on human rights issues.
"My personal peace has come through helping boys and girls reach beyond the ordinary and strive for the extraordinary," she said. "We must teach our children to weather the hurricanes of life, pick up the pieces and rebuild. . . . They must be anchored so deeply that though they sway, they will not topple."
Mother Mobley kept speaking out for justice until the end of her life. Her last public appearance was at an event sponsored by Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation. She was against the death penalty, which she called legal lynching.
Two thousand years ago another mother who lost her Son to violence may have felt the same way.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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