This article appeared in the July 01, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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When history bends toward justice

Brian Snyder/Reuters/File
Senty Banutu-Gomez holds a photograph of Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old who was lynched in 1955, at a vigil on the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, in Lynn, Massachusetts, May 25, 2021.
Linda Feldmann
Washington Bureau Chief

Many iconic artifacts are on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture here in Washington: a segregation-era railway car, Harriet Tubman’s hymnal of spirituals, Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac Eldorado.

But the museum’s most affecting exhibit is the one dedicated to Emmett Till, the Black 14-year-old who was beaten and killed in Mississippi in 1955 after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman. The incident proved a milestone in the civil rights movement. Now, the story has burst back into the news, with the discovery of an arrest warrant in a courthouse basement in Greenwood, Mississippi.

The warrant is for Emmett’s accuser, identified as Mrs. Roy Bryant – then-wife of one of the men ultimately acquitted by an all-white jury in the kidnapping and killing. The woman, now known as Carolyn Bryant Donham, was never arrested or charged in the kidnapping. Today, she is apparently still alive, living in North Carolina and in her 80s, but reporters have not been able to reach her.

This story shows that history isn’t really in the past, or merely fodder for books. It’s alive and evolving, as fresh discoveries shed new light on events and our understanding of them.

On a recent visit to the museum, I was urged by a guard to visit the Emmett Till display. “No photography allowed,” she said. The museum wants visitors to be “present” in viewing the exhibit, the thinking goes.

It so happens this week also saw the swearing-in of the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson – another step in the evolution of American institutions and racial history. And it is perhaps fitting that these two news points took place on the eve of Independence Day weekend, in a nation striving to do better in representing all its citizens.

This article appeared in the July 01, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 07/01 edition
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