THE POWER OF A PHOTOGRAPH:
THE LYNCHING OF EMMETT TILL
I couldn’t bear the thought of people being horrified by the sight of my son. But on the other hand, I felt the alternative was even worse. After all, we had averted our eyes for far too long, turning away from the ugly reality facing us as a nation. Let the world see what I’ve seen.
In September 1955, shortly after fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, who was visiting family on summer break, was murdered by white supremacists in Money, Mississippi, his grieving mother, Mamie Till Bradley, distributed to newspapers and magazines a gruesome black-and-white photograph of his mutilated corpse. Although the mainstream media rejected the photograph as inappropriate for publication, Bradley was able to turn to African American periodicals for assistance.
Asked why she would do this, Bradley explained that by seeing, with their own eyes, the brutality of segregation, Americans would be more likely to support the cause of civil rights. “The whole nation had to bear witness to this,” she insisted.
Bradley’s brave gesture represents one of the most decisive moments in the civil rights movement. The publication of the photograph in Jet and other black periodicals helped transform the modern movement, inspiring a new generation of African American activists to join the cause. It also affirmed the capacity of visual images to jolt Americans, black and white, out of their state of denial or complacency.