On August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was murdered, though perhaps murder is too light a word to describe his fate. The fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago was found dumped in a Tallahatchie River is Mississippi after being kidnapped, brutally beaten, shot in the head, tied to a large metal fan with barbed wire, and thrown in the water. His killers’ jury deliberation lasted less than an hour; the all-white jury unanimously declared them innocent, arguing that the body could not be identified. It was certainly disfigured: Emmett’s corpse was not discovered until nearly a month after his slaying. His mother, who reluctantly let him travel to stay with his relatives in the Mississippi, gave Emmett an open-casket funeral. The funeral was attended by nearly a hundred thousand people in Chicago, arguably “one of the largest civil rights demonstrations of all time” ( http://www.biography.com/people/emmett-till-507515#impact-on-civil-rights).
Having recently turned seventeen, the anniversary of Emmett’s death speaks to me with even more power. Considering how I have outlived so many people, and how u have done nothing to deserve that, helps me understand the cruelty of their fates. For instance, the death of Isabel, my eight-year-old neighbor who lost her battle with inoperable brain cancer, has forced me to reexamine many aspects of my life. She never got to take part in so many things I take for granted. She never got her driver’s license; she never had her first kiss; she never even finished learning long division. I frequently baby sat her and her younger sister before and occasionally after her diagnosis, but I never quite grasped the magnitude of the situation. Here I was, perfectly healthy, and I’m struggling to cope with someone else’s struggle. Simply put, I was clueless. I had no grasp of the fleeting nature of life, or the randomness that strikes those around us. So when I first learned about Emmett Till’s murder, I, to a small degree, already understood it. A young boy — who could have been me, or one of my friends, or a family member — was slayed. For no good reason. His family forever mourned his senseless death. And there was nothing they could have done to protect him.