When it comes to recalling the events and the activists that pioneered the Civil Rights Movement, the most common examples given include protest marches, public sit-ins, school desegregation and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
But there was one that symbolized the heinous injustices and inequities plaguing African-Americans, especially those presiding in the Deep South.
What began as a summer vacation became a tragic event of epic proportions in late August of 1955, when the 14-year-old went to a store with some cousins and, being unaware of the pervasive prejudice that was characteristic of the South, dared to flirt playfully with a 21-year-old white woman, Carolyn Bryant.
Instead of offering a lecture on manners or allowing Emmett’s great-uncle, Mose Wright, to discipline the teen, Carolyn’s husband Roy (along with two other men) went to Wright’s home days later, kidnapped Till by gunpoint and ‘made an example’ out him with an eye gouge, a bludgeoning and a fatal gunshout wound to the head.
Days later, his body was found in the Tallahatchie River and returned to his mother in Chicago. After seeing the swollen and distorted remains, Mamie Till Bradley bravely declared that she “wanted the world to see” what cruelties had been inflicted upon her only child and allowed an open casket funeral, which was attended by thousands as the heart-stopping photo of his corpse stunned the world.
The racially-motivated bigotry that led to Emmett’s kidnapping and murder, as well as the acquittal of his assailants by an all-white jury, sparked a firestorm of outrage that was an early catalyst for the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Although the incident occurred over 50 years ago, the mere mention of Emmett Till recalls the loss of an innocent life and the miscarriage of justice that haunts the nation to this day. This is why Lil Wayne’s decision to name-drop the deceased for shock value earned the popular rapper some well-deserved backlash and public condemnation from relatives of Mr. Till.
Since this is family newspaper, I can’t repeat the rhyme that Lil Wayne added to the infamous “Karate Chop” remix word for word. But what can be said is that the lyrics savagely compare Emmett’s battered body to a sex organ and trivializes the victim’s suffering in the process.
No one except Future, the rapper who originated the song, is defending this outrageous offense. Even Stevie Wonder, the iconic lifelong champion of Civil Rights, immediately expressed disdain. “Sometimes people have to put themselves in the place of people who they are talking about,” Wonder said. “Imagine if that happened to your mother, brother, daughter or your son. How would you feel? Have some discernment before we say certain things.”
As of the writing of this column, Lil Wayne’s remained mum about the tacky verse. And Epic Records, weeks into the fervor, finally issed a public apology and vowed to stop their distribution of the song.
But the damage is already done. Not only has this 30-year-old transgressed all boundaries of human decency and common sense, he’s cheapened the supreme sacrifices that Civil Rights activists have made in society that allowed him the wealth and mainstream success he exploits.
What I hope Lil Wayne learns from this controversy is that Black History Month may end soon, but the obscene inferences will malign them both in perpetuity.
And when a contemptible crime of the past is marginalized in the present, it doesn’t bode well for anyone’s future.