Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till

Elliot J. Gorn. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (392p) ISBN 978-0-19-932512-2
As historian Gorn (Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America) shows in this insightful study, the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 Mississippi has served as an “American Rashomon,” reinterpreted again and again over the years by its tellers and listeners. In a series of short, tightly focused chapters, Gorn leads the reader through Till’s short life, Northern and Southern responses to his killing, his mother’s refusal to let her son’s life and death be forgotten, and, in forensic detail, the trial and acquittal of his murderers. A particularly intriguing section deals with Emmett’s father, Louis Till, who had been executed by the U.S. Army after being convicted of raping and murdering several women in Italy during WWII; although Louis had had very little contact with Emmett, Southern newspapers attempted to justify his killers’ actions by claiming that he had somehow inherited Louis’s desire to defile white women. Gorn presents a masterful excavation of the ways in which Till’s memory was interpreted as both a rallying call for racial equality and a piece of “Jim Crow wisdom” that black parents passed on to their children to warn them of the dangers of a racist world. This perceptive take on a signal event from the civil rights movement deserves a wide readership. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/24/2018
Release date: 11/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 392 pages - 978-0-19-009219-1
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