Noted film and discussion series tackles the historical precedent to Trayvon Martin
DETROIT, MI – September 4, 2013: Before the tragedy of Trayvon Martin was the injustice of Emmett Till. To better understand this glaring connection between the past and the present, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s Liberation Film Series begins its 2013 – 2014 season with a free screening of the documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, accompanied by a community forum entitled, A Historical Precedent to the Murder of 17 Year-old Trayvon Benjamin Martin, and book signing for Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till. This special event takes place Saturday, September 14, 2013, at 2 pm at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Detroit.
Simple yet riveting, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (2005; directed by Keith Beauchamp) articulates the madness of racism in the South of the 1950s. Combining archival photos and footage with deeply felt interviews, this documentary tells the harrowing story of what happened when a mischievous 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, visiting his relatives in Mississippi, whistled at a white woman in the street. The lynching that followed was so gruesome that a media circus surrounded the trial – and what stunned the nation were not only the crime, but the blithe unconcern the citizens of a small Mississippi town felt toward the brutal murder of a black teenager. The interviews unveil the suspenseful story, moving from the viewpoint of Till’s mother to the perspective of his Southern cousins to actual film of Till’s uncle, who had the astonishing courage to accuse the two killers in court. Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, addressed the entire country in news footage, begging that something be done so that her son did not die in vain. The awkward, un-media-savvy quality of the 1950s interviews may seem to come from another world, but the harsh truth of what happened sprang all too clearly from America’s still unresolved racial conflicts. Keith Beauchamp’s groundbreaking film is the result of a 10-year journey to uncover the truth behind the nightmarish murder of an innocent African-American teenager. Emmett’s brutal murder – and his family’s brave actions in the horrifying aftermath – served as a major impetus for America’s civil rights movement and led Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make decisions that changed the course of history.
Following the screening will be a community discussion and forum centered on the topic, A Historical Precedent to the Murder of 17 Year-old Trayvon Benjamin Martin, led by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp; Simeon Wright, cousin to Emmett Till; and author, journalist, educator, historian, and activist Herb Boyd. Attendees will also have the opportunity to make donations to support The Trayvon Martin Foundation. Finally, there will also be a book signing for Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till, by authors Simeon Wright and Herb Boyd. All events will take place in the museum’s General Motors Theater, and are free and open to the public.
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s Liberation Film Series: 2013 – 2014 Season, entitled Injustice & Resistance!, brings into focus the escalating injustice experienced by people of African descent in America today. The purpose is to leverage the collective knowledge of scholars, students, community activists and the grassroots community in a meaningful conversation that focuses on resistance and solutions through the examination of important films of our history.
The Liberation Film Series is supported by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Black Studies Departments of Michigan State University, University of Michigan – Dearborn, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Wayne State University, Wayne County Community College District, University of Detroit-Mercy, Oakland University, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, Media Education Foundation, National Council of Black Studies, Dr. Errol Henderson (University of Pennsylvania), Good People Popcorn, ASALH-Detroit, Plug&Play Studios, The Walter P. Reuther Library – Wayne State University, community activists, and individual contributors. Charles Ezra Ferrell, a consultant to The Wright Museum, is the LFS Founder and Program Director.
The 2013 – 2014 season of the Liberation Film Series runs through June 2014, and is free and open to the public. For more information, including the complete series schedule and respective speaker profiles, discussion topics, trailers, reading lists, supplemental educational links, and insightful statements of endorsement, please visit www.TheWright.org/liberation.
About Keith Beauchamp
Keith Beauchamp (www.EmmettTillStory.com) found his calling as a filmmaker through his documentary about the story of 14-year-old Emmett Till who, in August 1955, was abducted and tortured to death because he whistled at a white woman. Suspects were arrested for the murder, but they all were acquitted by all-white juries. This story of a young boy, who was beaten, shot, and thrown in a river, ignited the early civil rights movement. Decades later, the FBI re-opened the case because Beauchamp uncovered new information, bolstered by his ability as a filmmaker to reach deep into the communities where these crimes occurred and connect with potential witnesses who otherwise might not come forward. Since his experience making The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, Beauchamp has become passionate about seeking justice for these families and assisting the FBI by developing new leads for some of their unsolved cases from this troubled chapter in American history. For The Injustice Files, executive producer and host Beauchamp combs through records; interviews family members, witnesses and investigators; and pieces together the known facts of each case. Beauchamp attempts to interview potential suspects and individuals who may know who was responsible for these murders, sometimes confronting them in their driveways after attempts to contact them for interviews prove unsuccessful.
About Simeon Wright
As painful as it might be to relive a night of terror in his house on Dark Fear Road in Money, Mississippi, Simeon Wright, cousin to Emmett Louis Till, endured an additional source of discomfort. With all the coverage and dramatic treatment of the Emmett Till story over nearly 55 years, too many people still were getting it wrong.
With his book, Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till, written with the journalist Herb Boyd and published in January by Lawrence Hill Books, Wright intends to expose the errors of past renderings of the story and, in the process, gain some measure of justice. “I’m excited in a way that I get a chance to tell what actually happened,” says Wright, 67, a retired pipe fitter who lives in west suburban Summit Argo.
Even with the passage of time, Wright says, he cannot entirely escape the memories. “Certain sounds bring it back. Certain smells. Honeysuckle smell. Because honeysuckle was blooming that summer.” Telling the story, setting it straight, already is making a difference, Wright believes—in his spirit, if not in court. “Hopefully, this book will be around as a record of what took place in Mississippi in 1955,” he says. Perhaps, at least, there is some measure of justice in that.
About Herb Boyd
Herb Boyd is a journalist, activist, teacher, and has authored or edited 23 books, including his latest one, The Diary of Malcolm X with Ilyasah Shabazz. Among his other more recent publications are By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X Real Not Reinvented; and Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today. His book Baldwin’s Harlem, a biography of James Baldwin, was a finalist for a 2009 NAACP Image Award. In 1995, with Robert Allen, he was a recipient of an American Book Award for Brotherman –The Odyssey of Black Men in America, an anthology. We Shall Overcome, a media-fusion book with narration by the late Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, is used in classrooms all over the world, as is his Autobiography of a People and The Harlem Reader. His articles can be found in such publications as The Black Scholar, the Amsterdam News, Cineaste, Downbeat, The Network Journal, The Final Call, and The Daily Beast, among others.
Over the last decade or so, Boyd has scripted several documentaries, including several with Keith Beauchamp on cold cases of martyrs from the civil rights era that were shown on Biography Channel and TV One. With filmmaker Eddie Harris, he was the writer on three documentaries –Trek to the Holy Land; Cri de Coeur (Cry from the Heart), and Slap the Donkey, that tracks the Rev. Al Sharpton’s presidential bid in 2004. The latter film was selected to be screened at the Montreal Film Festival in 2010. Boyd is also a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, as well as a keynote speaker at many functions sponsored by noted community and college organizations, where his commentaries on African American culture and politics have earned him an increasingly large audience and popularity. For more than forty years, he has taught at institutions of higher learning. Currently, he teaches at the City College of New York, and is also a national and international correspondent for FreeSpeechTV.org, a media company that specializes in Internet television.
About the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Founded in 1965 and located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. For more information, please visit www.TheWright.org.