The Painting That Has Reopened Wounds Of American Racism

She subsequently told the FBI that she had not recanted, and in 2021 the case was again closed without any new charges. As they walk through the exhibition, visitors will learn about Emmett Till’s story and upon turning a corner they will be faced with the preserved casket, open as Mamie ordered on the day of Till’s funeral. In the months following Till’s funeral, the Civil Rights Movement picked up speed beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Martin Luther King Jr. and inspired by Rosa Parks. The movement continued to gain momentum throughout the next few years as activists mobilized people across the country to fight for justice and equality. Mamie herself became an activist, speaking to large crowds about racial inequality and advocating for children in impoverished neighborhoods. Deborah Watts, a cousin of Emmett Till speaks as she point to a painting of Till during a news at the Mississippi Capitol, on Friday, March 11, 2022, in Jackson.


  • He was murdered for no reason, and those in charge did nothing about it.
  • The same year Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, in which a white attorney is committed to defending a black man named Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman.
  • Mamie Bradley, mother of lynched teenager Emmett Till, speaks with her father and a police interviewer, 1955.
  • The story of Till’s murder has begun to resonate loudly again in recent months.
  • When Carthan was two years old, her family moved to Argo, Illinois, near Chicago, as part of the Great Migration of rural black families out of the South to the North to escape violence, lack of opportunity and unequal treatment under the law.
  • In an emoji-rich graphic, an Instagrammer dismisssed the notion that the world ever needed the painting.

Literature professor Patrick Chura noted several similarities between Till’s case and that of Robinson. Writer James Baldwin loosely based his 1964 drama Blues for Mister Charlie on the Till case. He later divulged that Till’s murder had been bothering him for several years. Till’s case attracted widespread attention because of the brutality of the lynching, the victim’s young age, and the acquittal of the two men who later admitted killing him. It became emblematic of the injustices suffered by blacks in the South.

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Stephen Whitfield writes that the lack of attention paid to identifying or finding Till is “strange” compared to the amount of published discourse about his father. According to historians Davis Houck and Matthew Grindy, “Louis Till became a most important rhetorical pawn in the high-stakes game of north versus south, black versus white, NAACP versus White Citizens’ Councils”. The presence of blackness in a Whitney Biennial invariably stirs controversy — it’s deemed to be unfit or not enough, or too much. The current Whitney Biennial is no exception — the art press has been awash this past week with reports of a protest staged in front of a painting of a disfigured Emmett Till lying in his casket and a letter penned by an artist who called for the work to be removed and destroyed.

Black History Month

Thousands of people came to the Roberts Temple Church of God to see the evidence of this brutal hate crime. I don’t think it is wrong for a white person to paint Black subject matter. But it has to be done responsibly, especially in this era of time.

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Looking at her work, it feels like Emmett’s death was easy. Dana dressed him in a tux, put a flower on him, and she allows the viewer to close the casket and move on. When Mamie had an open casket for Emmett, and I watched African American people going up to the casket to view the body of this catalyst and martyr for the Civil Rights Movement, it was not easy. In the summer of 1955, 14-year-old African-American Emmett Till had gone on vacation from Chicago to visit family in Money, Mississippi. He was shopping at a store owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant—and someone said he possibly whistled at Mrs. Bryant, a white woman.

Statistics show that the Whitney Museum has a track record for the low number of Black artists and women who are selected for their biennial/museum/exhibitions. White women and people of color have very low representation in museums. Having a white woman create a work with Black subject matter, they can pad their statistics. Donating it to the Smithsonian was beyond our wildest dreams. We wanted to preserve it, we wanted to donate it to a civil rights museum.

Mamie Till Bradley was criticized for not crying enough on the stand. The jury was noted to have been picked almost exclusively from the hill country section of Tallahatchie County, which, due to its poorer economic make-up, found whites and blacks competing for land and other agrarian opportunities. Unlike the population living closer to the river , who possessed a noblesse oblige outlook toward blacks, according to historian Stephen Whitaker, those in the eastern part of the county were virulent in their racism.