Aaron Morrison, Associated Press
Posted Sunday, October 16, 2022 11:17 a.m. EDT
Last updated Sunday, October 16, 2022 at 11:17 a.m. EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — Gwen Carr straightened in her seat as she heard lines of dialogue spoken by the actor playing Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy whose lynching in Mississippi in 1955 catalyzed the civil rights movement in the United States.
“Watching this movie, I became Grandma Till,” Carr said last month at a private preview screening of “Till,” the Orion Pictures and United Artists biopic that debuted Friday in as the first feature film recounting the historic atrocity and Till-Mobley’s quest for justice for Emmett.
Carr is the mother of Eric Garner, a black man held in a fatal chokehold by a New York City police officer in 2014 during an encounter that began with an arrest for alleged unauthorized sale of cigarettes. His final gasps recorded on video, viewed millions of times around the world, was one of the first flashpoints of the Black Lives Matter movement. She demanded that her countrymen not look the other way or dismiss Garner as another victim of an unjust policing system, but instead see him as a reason to reform that system, similar to Till-Mobley’s message.
“I would tell anyone, ‘A mother can tell a child’s story better than anyone else,'” Carr said. “And that’s what she said in that movie.”
As “Till” debuts, the studio and production companies behind the film have teamed up in a campaign to recognize black women and black mothers who carry on the legacy of Till-Mobley and fight for justice, equality and equity. From civil rights and politics to business and performance art, the campaign includes events and screenings in select cities across the United States that honor the courageous works of black women whose contributions have historically been overlooked, minimized or have been footnoted.
Codie Elaine Oliver, filmmaker and co-creator of the Oprah Winfrey Network docuseries “Black Love,” was a guest speaker at a Tuesday screening in Los Angeles, alongside TV personality and writer Natalie Manual Lee , who hosts the YouTube series “Now with Natalie.” Both women are mothers of young black children and said Till-Mobley’s story guides the work they do in their respective fields.
“I try to live each day, acknowledging the pain of my ancestors, parents and grandparents, being a storyteller who consciously presents (black people) as loving husbands, fathers, mothers and wives,” said said Oliver. “I haven’t been through what (Till-Mobley) has been through, but I recognize that any of us could, especially as black mothers.”
In the late summer of 1955, Till-Mobley put Emmett on a train from Chicago to visit his uncle and cousins in his native Mississippi. Just as black women and men today give their children “the talk” about navigating traffic stops and other encounters with police officers, Till-Mobley warned Emmett that he was visiting a place where his safety depended on his ability to silence his outgoing and uncompromising nature. around the whites.
“Sure in himself, confident of a boundless future, he must have gazed upon the wide open spaces of the Mississippi Delta in amazement,” Till-Mobley wrote of his son in a 2003 memoir co-authored with Christopher Benson. Emmett was “completely oblivious to the boundaries that had begun to close in on him as soon as he got off that train.”
On the night of August 28, 1955, Emmett was taken from his uncle’s home in Mississippi at gunpoint by two vengeful white men. Emmett’s alleged crime? Flirt with the wife of one of his captors.
Three days later, a fisherman on the Tallahatchie River discovered the teenager’s bloated corpse – one of his eyes was detached, an ear was missing, his head was chopped off and struck. Till-Mobley demanded that Emmett’s remains be brought back to Chicago for one of the open-casket public funerals attended by tens of thousands. And at the trial of his killers in Mississippi, which ended in their acquittal, Till-Mobley bravely took the witness stand to counter the perverse image of his son that had been painted for jurors and court watchers. court case.
Throughout the film, Till-Mobley is portrayed as a woman full of apprehension about sending her only child to a place plagued by racial hatred. But her immense love for Emmett outweighs her pain and grief, at least enough to find purpose and meaning. In a 1995 interview with The Associated Press, 40 years after her son’s lynching, Till-Mobley, a woman of faith, said God sent Emmett to Earth on a special mission to awaken the nation and the world.
“The humanity and the brilliance of her, and how selfless she is as a black woman for taking on this role as a figure of grief and possibility,” said Danielle Deadwyler, who plays Till-Mobley in the film. “If she hadn’t had the courage to do this, we wouldn’t have known, and the world probably wouldn’t have known, the ramifications of racism. She made us all aware.
The mission to spread Emmett’s story, as only a mother could, had immediate effects. The civil rights movement gained momentum. Rosa Parks, the civil rights figure arrested for refusing to give way to a white passenger on a separate bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955, said she was motivated that day by the injustice in Emmett’s case. And a decade after Emmett’s death, Till-Mobley’s involvement in the movement helped spur the passage of landmark federal civil rights and suffrage legislation.
Till-Mobley died of heart failure in Chicago in 2003, before her memoir was published. In total, the impact of his defense of civil and human rights spans more than six decades. In March, after numerous failed attempts in Congress over a 120-year period to make lynching a federal crime, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act into law.
Till-Mobley’s example of sacrifice and perseverance continues to fuel black women like YouTube host Lee.
“I think there was a bridge between fear and faith for her, and in that in-between she clung to courage, strength, grace and mercy,” Lee said. . “It doomed me. She wasn’t expecting anyone else. She used what she had in her hands to answer the call of her life.
Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan civic engagement organization that works to increase voter turnout for historically marginalized Georgians, said “Till” is a long overdue “thank you” to black women who have been inspired by the history of Till-Mobley.
“It’s a love letter to black mothers and a love letter to black women – an acknowledgment of how we show up in the community, at work, in defense of black lives,” Ufot said. “I hope black women see themselves in history and have their love cups poured a little there, as we go out and take on the world.”
Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed.