NEW YORK — When Deacon Arthur Miller reflects on the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, he is convinced that at least one percent of the Money, Mississippi community knew it was wrong, but none of those un percent didn’t have the courage to speak out.
With that in mind, Miller said a new statue of Till in a Mississippi community not far from where the black teenager was kidnapped and killed is a powerful reminder of the community’s complicity in what happened. passed and a call to Catholics to live their faith.
“Maybe this statue is a call to people to say it’s time we stood up for what’s right because it’s not about being black, it’s about social justice and our faith Catholic and what Christ taught us,” Miller, who was Till’s neighbor growing up in Chicago, said. Nodeadding that he hopes the statue can be a “bastion of hope that we will never allow this kind of thing to happen again”.
“I hope we can overcome even the worst of things and recognize that every human being is a child of God and the worst thing you can do is destroy someone’s initiative, their curiosity, their hope. “
While visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955, Till went to a local store with his cousins and allegedly whistled Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Her husband, Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law, JW Milam, kidnapped and murdered the 14-year-old black teenager, dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River.
The lynching became a catalyst for the civil rights movement. Especially after Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, held an open funeral in Chicago so the world could see what happened. Miller credits Till-Mobley with keeping hope alive.
“[Till] wasn’t Catholic, but at that time most of the black community was very loyal because the only thing we had was hope, and the worst thing you can do to any community, to any human being is to destroy their hope,” he said. said. “You can suffer from many things, but you can only do it with hope.”
“What they did to Emmett Till was try to extinguish hope, but his mother didn’t want that to happen – hopes one day this nation will be what it was meant to be.”
The new statue, located in Greenwood, Mississippi, is about 10 miles from what remains of Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, the store Till visited on August 24, 1955. The 9-foot-tall bronze statue depicts a living Till in slacks, a shirt dress and a tie with one hand on the brim of a hat.
Today, Leflore County, where Greenwood is located, is 70 percent black.
Bishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, who heads the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said Node that the statue reminds us that racism has a “precious” cost, and that cost is life.
“I hope those who look at this statue will definitely remember Emmett Till,” Fabre said. “I hope they say a prayer for him and all those who have lost their lives to racism, but I also hope it inspires people to do what we can to keep fighting to defeat evil and the sin of racism.”
When Node spoke with Miller, 77, he was in Nevada visiting his older brother, who was good friends and classmates with Till. He described the inherent kindness that Till had even at such a young age.
Miller credits his own mother for his strong Catholic faith. And her experience growing up in an isolated Chicago — combined with her understanding of Catholic values — for her commitment to fighting for racial justice. He was first arrested in 1963 during a march against segregated schools in Chicago, and last time in 2015 while participating in a Black Lives Matter protest.
He previously headed the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Hartford and wrote a book in 2005 called “The Journey to Chatham: Why Emmett Till’s Murder Changed America, a Personal Story.” He also toured what remains of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market.
Miller said he saw estimates that only five percent of Americans participated in the civil rights movement in any meaningful way from 1955 to 1964, noting the impact that five percent had and how the church today can hopefully have a similar impact.
“My hope is that our church, all of us, will become that five percent because only five percent can make a difference, just like the [one percent]in Money, Mississippi, could have said something, and it would have been much bigger,” Miller said, adding that as a nation “Thank God we are not where we were, but praise the Lord, we we’re not where we’re supposed to be, either.
For his part, at 77, Miller can’t quite lead marches like he used to, but he said he’ll never stop fighting.
“I’ll tell you this, man, I’ll never give up,” Miller said. “You’re going to have to bury me again with my dead, crumpled fingers calling out to help my people, and when I say my people, I mean everyone.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg