This summer marks 62 years since the 1955 lynching of then-14-year-old Emmett Till by White supremacists. It was alleged that he had flirted with a White female grocery store clerk while visiting relatives in Mississippi. The clerk’s husband and a group of other White men abducted him, beating him such that he could only be identified by a ring on his finger that had been given to him by his father.
In 1955 Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, chose to have a public open casket funeral for her son who had been brutally ravaged and mutilated. Thousands came to view the body and pictures were published nationally in magazines and newspapers. She hoped by this public display of racial hatred and violence, others would garner the strength to stand up against oppression.
She was right. One hundred days later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a White patron. She later indicated that it was Emmett Till’s murder that led her to say enough is enough.
Known as “Mother of the Movement,” Parks’ defiance sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and progression of the Civil Rights Movement. As a teen, Parks attended National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leadership trainings where she met Ella Baker, who encouraged her to organize an NAACP Youth Council in Montgomery, which she did.
Baker, who began activism during the 1920s, was instrumental in the organization and expansion of the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLU), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1964, as a tireless organizer for the Freedom movement, Baker said, “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a White mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
Baker’s words remain relevant today. The cries for justice and equality grow louder as homicides of Black men and women at the hands of police officers take center stage. In 2016, over 250 Black people were killed by police officers, and thus far there has been little accountability for their actions.
Black mothers have always played an important role in the quest for civil rights and have come together for the common goal of demanding the safety of Black children and adults. Today, like Mamie Till, mothers are turning their sense of grief and loss into action.
Mothers of the Movement is an organization created by mothers of murdered children to end gun violence. The founders of this movement are: Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Gardner; Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; Lucia McBeth, mother of Jordan Davis; Lesley McFadden, mother of Michael Brown; Cleopatra Pendleton-Crowly, mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant; Annette Nance-Holt, mother of Blair Holt; and Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland.
Seven of the members attended and spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention about the deep sense of sorrow and loss they experienced and how they are using their tragedies to promote change in America.
Following the death of Trayvon Martin, another group, Black Lives Matter, emerged. This movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi co-founded the Black Lives Matter Movement when George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin.
“This isn’t the beginning of a movement. This is the continuation of a struggle that’s been happening for at least 400 years,” said Garza, 34, who works with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Black Lives Matter has members across the nation.
Locally, Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castille who was killed in 2016, has established the Philando Castile Relief and Scholarship Foundation to provide supportive services and scholarships to assist families impacted by gun and police violence. His former high school classmates established the Philando Castille Scholarship foundation and awarded its first college scholarship in June of 2017 to a first-generation college-bound Black young man.
As a result of the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez charged in the homicide of Castile, the governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, has announced plans to name the Officer Training fund in Castile’s honor. (The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board has since voted against Gov. Dayton’s plan).
These mothers have suffered an unspeakable tragedy, and by making the decision to take a stand they are promoting social change. There are a number of opportunities for all of us to become more involved in the continued quest for civil rights.
According to Essence Magazine, there are at least 13 national organizations that focus on reducing police brutality and violence. One of these organizations, Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), is located in Minneapolis.
CUAPB was formed in 2000 following the shooting death of Charles “Abuka” Sanders, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police. They approach police brutality through advocacy, education and political action. They were recently awarded a $20,000 judgement against the City of Crystal for violation of their right to free speech during city council meetings.
CUAPB members were not allowed to speak at several council meetings to express their support for two terminated police officers who had spoken out about police misconduct. As part of this settlement, Crystal City Council members have to take annual Open Meeting Law and First Amendment training.
CUAPB is an organization with no fees or dues, and they have weekly meetings where they plan their work. For more information, they can be contacted at cuapb.org.
As a result of the courageous action of one Black mother, Mamie Till, all of our lives have been forever impacted.
For questions about your mental, physical and sexual health, contact your primary care physician, your behavioral health provider, and/or your local sexual health clinic.
Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of behavioral health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705. Leah Post-Ratliff can be reached at 612-543-2604.