COURTNEY R. BAKER
EMMETT TILL, JUSTICE AND THE TASK OF RECOGNITION
Emmett Till’s appearance in life inspired a mother’s love and racists’ hatred. His appearance in death—disfigured, abused, in his coffin and in the photographs that circulated in the African-American press and the Mississippi courtroom—crystalized a movement. It also the exposed profound and untenable ambivalence about his humanity. The following chapter examines the multiple “looks” that were directed at Till, particularly in his death, to explain how his image and his body were put to multiple and often competing ends. An excuse for a performance of white dominance. An inspiration for black rage. A subject of mourning. Emmett Till was all of these. Through wisdom and motherwit, Mamie Till-Mobley created a movement by demanding her son be viewed with humane insight.
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Courtney R. Baker is Associate Professor of American Studies at Occidental College. She is the author of Humane Insight: Looking at Images of African American Suffering and Death as well as several essays on black visual culture and literature.