March 12, 2022
A Reflection from the Interpath Traditions
by Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
Emmett Louis Till was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 25, 1941. At age six, he contracted polio which left him with a speech impediment. His mother taught him to whistle to himself so he could pronounce certain words correctly. He was said to be a lively and out-going boy who was charming and funny. He would be tortured, murdered, and tossed away like trash at age fourteen. He was Black.
Emmett visited relatives in Mississippi in the summer of 1955. He and some of his teenage friends visited a local grocery store to buy candy. Emmett did not know the ways of the South at that time. The woman at the cash register accused him of inappropriate flirting. She said he whistled while he made advances at her. Years later, she recanted her testimony as false. Unfortunately, years later was too late for the fourteen-year-old boy.
Several men kidnapped Emmett from his bed, beat him mercilessly, and finally shot him before throwing his body in a river. No trial, no investigation, no justice, no fairness under the law. The accusation of a white person was the law over an accused black person. His murderers were declared not guilty. Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till, demanded his body be taken back to Chicago for burial. She had his coffin open for the public to see how her son was lynched and tormented. Her actions born of grief set in motion the desire for the civil and human rights of Black People throughout the United States.
On Monday, March 7, 2022, the United States Senate unanimously passed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. This legislation passed after 300 attempts to pass such a bill. Having already been passed by the House, the bill is on its way to President Biden’s desk.
This is a breakthrough moment in America. The bill’s House champion, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill said this legislation “sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U. S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act.”
The unanimous approval by the Senate is a breath of fresh air reviving hope that we can work together as a people to overcome the scourge of racism and bigotry. Yet, much remains to be done. This is simply another beginning on the road to forging a Nation recognizing the full and complete civil and human rights of all its citizens and those who find security within its borders.
Thank you, Holy Community, for your advocacy in the pursuit of human rights. Thank you for all the times you stood up against racism, bigotry, and intolerance. You saved someone’s life.
Rest in Peace, Emmett. Your death is not in vain.