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Herstory: Revisiting Women in Civil Rights

R.L. Barnes | US History Scene   in  ·
March 15, 2015

In 1955, a fourteen-year-old black boy named Emmett Till was lynched after he whistled at Carolyn Bryant, the young white wife of a store proprietor. Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi and Eldridge Cleaver’s collected essays Soul on Ice, show how men and women reacted to Till’s transgression differently while experiencing an intense moment of political awakening. The photographs of Till’s mutilated body in Jet were seared into the memories of African Americans, as they portrayed in grotesque pictures how racial oppression was often sexualized and normally gendered. This was frighteningly clear for Robert Lewis, an impoverished sharecropper in Louisiana who joined the Civil Rights Movement after his boss threatened him with a newspaper clipping of Till’s death, a “warning of what might happen if I stepped out of line.” ((Frystak, Shannon L. Our Minds on Freedom: Women and the Struggle for Black Equality in Louisiana, 1924-1967. Baton Rouge, La: Louisiana State University Press, 2009, 218.)) Even Rosa Parks—heralded in popular memory as the quiet, pious, seamstress who ignited the Civil Rights Movement—recalled that she thought of Till when deciding to remain seated in the front of a Montgomery bus at the end of that fateful year in December 1955. ((“Emmett Till’s Legacy 50 Years Later” Jet, Sep 2005, 22.))

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