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Grieving mothers gather to remember Emmett Till

CHICAGO – (NNPA) – It was Geneva Reed-Veal’s turn to speak about her life, following the death of her daughter, Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a police cell after being arrested on a minor traffic charge.

The room grew silent as Reed-Veal gathered her thoughts.

“I’m tired. I’m tired of crying and tired of talking. But I’m not tired of fighting,” she said as cheers erupted from the crowd.

Reed-Veal was among several grieving mothers who gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till by two white men in Mississippi, a seminal event that helped spark the modern-day civil rights movement.

The commemoration was part of an intense weekend of events that rekindled strong memories of a highly publicized murder whose killers were never brought to justice, even though they acknowledged murdering Till, who was visiting from Chicago.

The gruesome memories stirred emotions among other mothers who have lost their children to gun violence in recent years – and many of them urged black people to channel their anger with activism and fight for justice and for the future of all black youth.

“People ask me why I don’t smile all the time, but it’s not a joke, I lost my child. This is serious,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, 17, who was killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges a year later.

Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from Chicago, was found hanged in a Walker County, Texas jail cell July 13 after she had been arrested three days earlier by State Trooper Brian Encinia on a minor traffic charge.

“For those of you who say, ‘I’m Sandra Bland,’ don’t say it if you’re not going to do anything,” said Reed-Veal, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Texas law enforcement officials in connection with her daughter’s death.

On Sept. 11, the life and death of Emmett was remembered at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ – the same church that held Till’s highly publicized funeral on Sept. 6, 1955.

Till was abducted, brutally beaten and killed on Aug. 28, 1955, his body found in the Tallahatchie River weighted down with barbed wire tied to a large cotton gin fan.

Many young blacks in the Deep South were lynched during the Jim Crow era, but Till’s brutal death would draw intense national publicity after his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, allowed an open casket funeral – showing Till’s grossly disfigured face – to show the world what was done to her son.

Till’s killers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were acquitted of murder charges in a trial that lasted only one hour – an injustice that many say serves as a painful reminder today for grieving mothers who lost their children to police abuse and other violence in recent years.

In a ceremony designed to commemorate Till’s death and demand justice for all victims of violence, a 70-car motorcade rode through Chicago’s south side, before stopping at Burr Oak Cemetery, where a wreath was placed next to Till’s grave. Dozens participated in the somber ceremony that included speeches, musical tributes and poetic messages calling for social justice for blacks.

Father Michael Pfleger, a charismatic leader of Saint Sabina Church, said Emmett Till’s death must not be in vain.

“Today, we remember Emmett, Mamie and all the children who lost their lives in this country,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly [D-Ill.], agreed, adding: “We must hold America accountable for our racial baggage.”

Roberts Temple pastor Rev. Wheeler Parker, who remembered Till’s brutal murder in 1955, called it incredible that such a murder could occur – and go unpunished – in America’s so-called Bible Belt.

“How could that have happened in one of the most religious parts of America?” he asked, “It’s on my mind everyday. To me, it was like a nightmare that I wish never happened.”