Squires: “Till” shows why history should be explored for timeless truths and not exploited for political ends

I wasn’t planning to see the movie “Till” when I first heard that a movie was being made about the gruesome murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. I felt no need to undergo another exercise in “racial trauma porn” disguised as a history lesson. Some of these films, including 12 Years a Slave and Selma, received critical acclaim and won multiple awards at film festivals and awards shows.

My skepticism was rooted in a belief that the film would serve to further the “Selma Syndrome” that is so pervasive in today’s political culture. I fully expected this film to be used as an October surprise just before the midterms to get black voters feeling like the spirits of Jim Crow South are about to rise again as they allow Republicans to hold key races in the states and to win in Congress.

But I was wrong. The film focused on a dark moment in American history without overtly pushing a political agenda.

“Till” was about Emmett Till (nicknamed “Bo” by his family) as told from the perspective of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. The film captures their close relationship and the balance she found as a mother trying to protect her son from a world where the word “nigger” was used as casually as a person’s first name, while allowing him to being the playful kid his family knew and loved.

Without giving too many details, the film treats the kidnapping and lynching of Emmett Till without gratuitous violence. Much of the film was about his mother’s decision to both seek justice for her son and allow his brutal death – and the acquittal of the men who killed him – to serve as a major national call to action in the civil rights movement.

The film was a stark reminder of what American social life was like for black Americans 70 years ago and how much progress we’ve made as a nation since then. Given the political struggles surrounding critical race theory and the way American history is taught in schools, “Till” affirms and challenges notions about race that have become entrenched on both sides of the political spectrum.

Race was obviously a major theme throughout the film, but the caste system common in the South went well beyond separate water fountains. Perhaps one of the most poignant examples of how the shackles of racism handcuffed black Americans in the South was the fact that Emmett’s uncle, known as “Preacher,” felt powerless to stop the men who kidnapped his nephew. When I saw that scene, my first thought was, “Where’s his gun?”

It’s only later in the film that we learn that Preacher kept a long gun by the front door but refused to use it. Mamie Till asked him why he didn’t use it. His response was heartbreaking: “If I shot them, they would have killed me all.”

Preacher believed that using his gun in his nephew’s defense would have put his own wife and children in serious danger, so he let the men take Emmett with them.

Few things are as demoralizing as the inability to protect your family from physical harm. One of the reasons I am so interested in paternity is that for many years the legal system and social conventions have deprived black men of their natural right to protect their families. The sad irony is now black preacher are often the ones who create theological justifications for the organizations and people who want to kill children.

Black clerics like Wilhelm Barbier II and Jamal Bryant and gospel singers William Murphy are just as emasculated as Preacher in the film. That’s the only word to describe a man who doesn’t raise a hand — or raise his voice — to protect his family.

They are a far cry from the black preachers of the past who fought for civil rights because they believed all human beings were created in God’s image. The black church of the period served as a moral compass for a country struggling to reconcile its professed Christian ideals with mistreatment of other image bearers because of race.

Ultimately, “Till” struck the right balance between history and dignity. I hope the gravity of Emmett Till’s murder will deter selfish politicians from using his name to draw one comparison between her critics and the lynch mob that kidnapped and killed a teenager. History should be explored to learn about the past, not exploited in the present for personal or political gain.

https://www.theblaze.com/fearless/oped/squires-till-shows-why-history-should-be-explored-for-timeless-truths-not-exploited-for-political-gain Squires: “Till” shows why history should be explored for timeless truths and not exploited for political ends

Laura Coffey

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