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Families of Slain Teens Participate in Panel Discussion

Till, Martin Families Discuss Similarities, Grief, Connections

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/27/2013, 10:44 a.m.
Fifty-seven years separate their deaths, but the murders of Emmett Louis Till in August 1955 and Trayvon Benjamin Martin in ...
Trayvon Martin

Fifty-seven years separate their deaths, but the murders of Emmett Louis Till in August 1955 and Trayvon Benjamin Martin in February 2012 crystallized in the minds of people, especially African Americans, the utter disdain with which some sections of society hold the lives of their children.

The murders ratcheted up resistance in the black community against the wanton killings, sparking the nascent civil rights movement in the South in 1955, and reinvigorating a new generation who took to the streets seeking justice for Trayvon in the days after his murder.

Each became a sacrificial lamb and their murders resonated deeply in communities across this country, so it was no accident that on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, their cases were the subject of a wide-ranging, high-energy discussion.

Several hundred people filled the sanctuary of Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest on Friday, Aug. 23 to hear panelists – including members of the Till and Martin families – recall the slayings, share their continuing grief, and explain how they’ve dealt with the untimely losses.

The event occurred five day before the 58th anniversary of Till’s murder – August 28th.

“The connection between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin is so clear,” said MSNBC host and commentator Touré who moderated the dialogue titled, Ambassadors of Peace: Civil Rights, Human Wrongs and the Charge for Youth Leadership. “These teenage black boys were destroyed by the status quo and the police did nothing. [The photo of Emmett Till’s] battered head doesn’t even seem human.”

“There were other Emmett Tills, but his mother was courageous enough to insist that the coffin stay open. Mamie Till-Mobley is such an important part of the story. How many people would have the courage to have an open casket?”

Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender published the now iconic picture of Emmett’s bloated and mutilated body in the funeral home and at the funeral which drew about 10,000 mourners. Civil rights advocates said Till’s murder illustrated the savagery and barbaric nature of segregation and the act spotlighted the lengths whites in the South would go to defend their way of life.

The panel comprised Till’s cousin, Simeon Wright, an eyewitness to the incident that led to his death, as well as his kidnapping by J.T. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant; Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin; his brother Jahvaris Fulton; political activist and writer Kevin Powell; and 14-year-old Victoria Pannell, an Emmett Till Youth Ambassador for Peace.

The Trayvon Martin case is fresh in people’s minds because it happened in 2012 and on July 13, an all-woman jury returned a verdict of not guilty for George Zimmerman.

On the night of Feb. 26, 2012, Trayvon, 17, walked to a nearby grocery store to buy a can of iced tea and some Skittles. A strange man who had followed him, confronted him, seeking to find out who he was and why he was in the neighborhood. A scuffle ensued and the man – who never identified himself – shot the unarmed teen once in the heart. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old “protector” of the neighborhood tracked Trayvon assuming he was suspicious because he was young and black.