The first grave you see when you enter Burr Oak Cemetery is Mamie Till Mobley’s grave. Her only child was Emmett Till.
When I lived in upstate New York (my first call in professional ministry) I lived ten miles from a real grocery store. When I lived in Northern Virginia (my second call in professional ministry) I lived 8 miles from The White House. And now (in my third call in professional ministry) I live nine miles from the grave of Emmett Till. I just figured this out a couple weeks ago.
I have passed this grave countless times on the way to Midway Airport without realizing it.
August 28, 1955: It was my mother’s 22nd birthday and she was in her first trimester of pregnancy with me. It was also the day that Emmett Till died
Mom was a year older that Emmett Till’s accuser who would admit decades later that she’d lied about most of her testimony. He had not assaulted her. He had not spewed vulgar language. At most, Emmett Till had put the cash to pay for his items directly into her hand rather than onto the counter. He had dared to graze her hand when he paid her. He would be brutally, horrifically murdered for this social infraction.
He was fourteen years old.
I’ve read several accounts of Emmett Till’s murder through the years, but most recently, I read Timothy B. Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till which I strongly recommend.
Today, when we say that Black Lives Matter, we are expressing a holy Truth. It’s also true that we have not cherished the lives of Black Americans in this country. And Emmett Till’s grave one of countless examples of this.
Now, every time I pass by the cemetery at 127th and Cicero, I will be aware of a holy place along that ordinary roadway where a mother put her child to rest and now rests there herself. I stood over his grave last week and all I could say is, “I am so sorry.”
To my white sisters and brothers: it’s on us to learn about white supremacy. We have got to talk about this, think about this, step up against this. What happened to Emmett Till still happens. We have got to be braver than we’ve ever been before.