That there is a need for this is evidenced by the fact that someone keeps shooting up a sign on the riverbank marking the spot where Till’s body was found. As noted in this space at the time, a student filmmaker found it pocked with dozens of bullet holes back in 2016. The marker was replaced in June. This week comes news that someone has already put new holes in it.
Understand: You’ve got to go through some trouble to shoot up this sign. According to The Washington Post, it lies in an isolated spot two miles down a gravel road. Obviously, someone has a grudge against it. Apparently, the truth it tells is still red and raw even now, 23,000 days after the fact.
Granted, that truth is awful. Meaning that America regularly condoned — and, yes, condones — the extralegal killing of black children. Many of us are unwilling to face truths like that, as in a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, quantifying that most Republicans do not believe significant racial discrimination exists. Which is sad.
This will be a better nation the day we stop lying to ourselves about who we were and what we are, the day we own up to the blood shed, bones splintered, sins committed and calumnies told to make America “great,” the day we finally find the guts to admit what happened to Emmett, and to Trayvon and Tamir — and why.
I don’t expect “justice” if Donham ends up in court. She has lived into her 80s. Emmett Till is a teenager forever. So there can be no justice.
But truth would be nice.
Problem is, for some people, it would be frightening, too. Why else, after 23,000 days, does anyone feel compelled to go two miles down a hard road to shoot up a sign that speaks only historical fact? In the process, they turn a reminder of what America was into a monument to what America too often is, a nation unable or unwilling to own up to itself.
The octogenarian who lied Emmett Till to death is an icon of that failure. “Nothing that boy did,” she says, “could ever justify what happened to him.” You keep hoping for more.
But even that took her a lifetime to say.