As part of their National Poetry Month Celebration, the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland is displaying my poem “If Mamie Till Was The Mother of God” in one of their large windows facing Cathedral Street. I’m humbled that they selected this poem to win their poetry contest, run in conjunction with the literary journal Little Patuxent Review. I have to say, I was in awe as we walked up to the window last weekend and saw the poem displayed with the moving graphics of Mamie and Emmett Till.
Mamie Till’s decision to bury her son in a casket with a glass top was a momentous one. In her words, she wanted the world “to see what they did to my boy.” In 1955, Mamie Till sent her son Emmett to live with relatives in Mississippi for the summer. One night, he was dragged from his uncle’s house, beaten to death and dumped in the Tallahatchie River, with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was found downriver some days later. The image of her son’s beaten and distorted body were broadcast around the world. In the view of some, this murder was seen as the beginning of the civil rights movement.
I am in awe of these moments in our sad and brutal human history– when someone makes a decision that pushes that history forward. Mamie Till was not a political person. She was not a civil rights leader. Yet her decision, that of a grieving mother, had an effect on us all. I’m deeply honored that the Pratt Library chose this poem as it helps, I hope, to keep alive the memory of both Emmett and Mamie Till.
If you click on the photograph, you will be able to read the poem. (Photo Credit: Robert Waxman)