It’s A Myth That Emmett Till Whistled At A White Woman, Read His Mother’s Words

It is oft repeated lore that Emmett Till inappropriately whistled at a white woman. However, the excerpt from his mother’s tome, printed below, contains the seldom told history of what likely caused the “Emmett Till whistle.”

“Although it was a great relief to learn that Emmett hadn’t lost any of his motor skills, it wasn’t long before we noticed a related problem. It was devastating to us. Emmett’s bout with polio had caused some muscle damage after all. He was left with a speech defect. He sttutered. It was especially bad when he got excited or nervous. It could just take over at times in those early days. Nobody could understand him. Nobody but Mama and me. We knew what this could mean and we refused to accept it. We were very proud people, and we didn’t want anything to stand in the way of Emmett’s success. We didn’t want him held back because of people’s prejudices, because they might hear him speak and think he had limitations…

He could improve his speech by practicing, by memorizing and reciting. That would be my solution.

So that’s when the pileup began. Poor kid, I had him memorizing everything from the preamble to the Constitution to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to poetry, everything I knew he was going to encounter. That way, when he’d come across all of this material again, he would already be ahead of everybody else. I felt so sorry for him, because my list of stuff never ran out. I mean, by the time he had learned one, I was on him with another one. And I had him doing all the gestures, all the expressions. He was good, too.

I was working him so hard, he had to take a time-out. ‘Mama, you’re gonna have to let me come up and breathe,’ he would say.

He was very pleased with himself, though. And it seemed to help. It proved to him that, once he was certain of something, he could go ahead and execute. But there was something else. I noticed that in pacing himself for the recitation, he would have to control his breathing. That’s when it occurred to me to give him a bit of advice.

‘If you find yourself stuck on a word,’ I said, ‘take a breath, whistle, and then go ahead and speak.’ He tried it, and it seemed that when he whistled, it was almost a hypnotic cue that would calm him, steady his breathing, and allow him to finish what he had started to say.” -From, “Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America” By: Mamie Till-Mobley

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Book Excerpt Of The Week- “Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America” By: Mamie Till-Mobley

“Emmett Louis Till, my only son, my only child, was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at the hand of white racists on August 28, 1955. That was so many years ago, yet it seems like only yesterday to a mother who needs no reminders. After all, every shattered piece of my heart has its own special memory of Emmett.

They say there are lessons to be learned from every experience in life. It has taken practically all my life to sort out the lessons here. I couldn’t see how there might possibly be any good to come of something so evil. What could the lesson have been? How could anyone deserve this? Then there was there was the mistreatment, the indifference of those who I thought really cared, the betrayal by those I trusted, the injustice at the hands of the justice system.

It has taken all these years of quiet reflection to recognize the true meaning of my experience, and Emmett’s. It took quite a while for me to accept how his murder connected to so many things that make us what we are today. I didn’t see right away, but there was an important mission for me, to shape so many other young minds as a teacher, a messenger, an active church member. God told me, “I took away one child, but I will give you thousands.” He has. And I have been grateful for that blessing.

That’s why, for forty-seven years, I wasn’t quite ready to write this book. It took a long time for me to reach this kind of deep understanding. I have been approached, oh, so many times by people who wanted to tell my story or put words in my mouth to tell their version of my story. But I just couldn’t do that. I owe Emmett more than that. I owe him the absolute understanding I finally have come to appreciate; the deep understanding of why he lived and died and why I was destined to live so long after his death. You see my story is more than the story of a lynching. It is more a story of how, with God’s guidance, I made a commitment to rip the covers off Mississippi, USA- revealing to the world the horrible face or race hatred. It is more than the story of how I took the privacy of my own grief and turned it into a public issue, one which set in motion the dynamic force that led ultimately to a generation of social and legal progress for this country. My story is more than all of that. It is the story of how I was able to pull myself back from the brink of desolation, and turn my life around by digging deep within my soul to pull hope from despair, joy from anguish, forgiveness from anger, love from hate. I want people to know all of that and how they might gain some useful understanding for their own lives from my experience. But I also want people to know my Emmett, the way they might have known him had they met him so many years ago- as the driven, industrious, clever boy that he was at age fourteen. Forever fourteen.” -From, “Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America” By: Mamie Till-Mobley

[SIDEBAR: Emmett Till would have turned 71 today.]

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Book Excerpt Of The Week- Part 2, “Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America” By: Mamie Till-Mobley

It is oft repeated lore that Emmett Till inappropriately whistled at a white woman. However, the excerpt from his mother’s tome, printed below, contains the seldom told history of what likely caused the “Emmett Till whistle.”

“Although it was a great relief to learn that Emmett hadn’t lost any of his motor skills, it wasn’t long before we noticed a related problem. It was devastating to us. Emmett’s bout with polio had caused some muscle damage after all. He was left with a speech defect. He sttutered. It was especially bad when he got excited or nervous. It could just take over at times in those early days. Nobody could understand him. Nobody but Mama and me. We knew what this could mean and we refused to accept it. We were very proud people, and we didn’t want anything to stand in the way of Emmett’s success. We didn’t want him held back because of people’s prejudices, because they might hear him speak and think he had limitations…

He could improve his speech by practicing, by memorizing and reciting. That would be my solution.

So that’s when the pileup began. Poor kid, I had him memorizing everything from the preamble to the Constitution to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to poetry, everything I knew he was going to encounter. That way, when he’d come across all of this material again, he would already be ahead of everybody else. I felt so sorry for him, because my list of stuff never ran out. I mean, by the time he had learned one, I was on him with another one. And I had him doing all the gestures, all the expressions. He was good, too.

I was working him so hard, he had to take a time-out. ‘Mama, you’re gonna have to let me come up and breathe,’ he would say.

He was very pleased with himself, though. And it seemed to help. It proved to him that, once he was certain of something, he could go ahead and execute. But there was something else. I noticed that in pacing himself for the recitation, he would have to control his breathing. That’s when it occurred to me to give him a bit of advice.

‘If you find yourself stuck on a word,’ I said, ‘take a breath, whistle, and then go ahead and speak.’ He tried it, and it seemed that when he whistled, it was almost a hypnotic cue that would calm him, steady his breathing, and allow him to finish what he had started to say.” -From, “Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America” By: Mamie Till-Mobley

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Book Excerpt Of The Week- Part 1, “Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America” By: Mamie Till-Mobley

“Emmett Louis Till, my only son, my only child, was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at the hand of white racists on August 28, 1955. That was so many years ago, yet it seems like only yesterday to a mother who needs no reminders. After all, every shattered piece of my heart has its own special memory of Emmett.

They say there are lessons to be learned from every experience in life. It has taken practically all my life to sort out the lessons here. I couldn’t see how there might possibly be any good to come of something so evil. What could the lesson have been? How could anyone deserve this? Then there was there was the mistreatment, the indifference of those who I thought really cared, the betrayal by those I trusted, the injustice at the hands of the justice system.

It has taken all these years of quiet reflection to recognize the true meaning of my experience, and Emmett’s. It took quite a while for me to accept how his murder connected to so many things that make us what we are today. I didn’t see right away, but there was an important mission for me, to shape so many other young minds as a teacher, a messenger, an active church member. God told me, “I took away one child, but I will give you thousands.”. He has. And I have been grateful for that blessing.

That’s why, for forty-seven years, I wasn’t quite ready to write this book. It took a long time for me to reach this kind of deep understanding. I have been approached, oh, so many times by people who wanted to tell my story or put words in my mouth to tell their version of my story. But I just couldn’t do that. I owe Emmett more than that. I owe him the absolute understanding I finally have come to appreciate; the deep understanding of why he lived and died and why I was destined to live so long after his death. You see my story is more than the story of a lynching. It is more a story of how, with God’s guidance, I made a commitment to rip the covers off Mississippi, USA- revealing to the world the horrible face or race hatred. It is more than the story of how I took the privacy of my own grief and turned it into a public issue, one which set in motion the dynamic force that led ultimately to a generation of social and legal progress for this country. My story is more than all of that. It is the story of how I was able to pull myself back from the brink of desolation, and turn my life around by digging deep within my soul to pull hope from despair, joy from anguish, forgiveness from anger, love from hate. I want people to know all of that and how they might gain some useful understanding for their own lives from my experience. But I also want people to know my Emmett, the way they might have known him had they met him so many years ago- as the driven, industrious, clever boy that he was at age fourteen. Forever fourteen.” -From, “Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America” By: Mamie Till-Mobley

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Emmett Till, Rosa Parks’s Inspiration

[SIDEBAR: I normally wouldn’t post such a graphic picture. However, it was Emmett Till’s mother’s wish for the world to see what racism and hate did to her son.]

“When she learned of Emmett’s murder, Mamie Till demanded that her son’s body be returned to Chicago. She defied the explicit orders of the Mississippi authorities, who had sealed his casket, and ordered that it be opened. Her son’s mutilated face displayed to the entire world what Southern racism had done. Thousands of Chicagoans walked by the open casket in 1955 at the Rayner Funeral Home, aghast at what they saw. Years later, Rosa Parks Told Mamie Till that the photograph of Emmett’s disfigured face in the casket was set in her mind when she refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus.” -From, “The Assassination of Fred Hampton” By: Jeffrey Haas

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Fred Hampton and Emmett Till, Neighbors

“Among the Hamptons’ neighbors in Argo were Mamie Till and her son, Emmett. Mamie Till had come to Chicago from Mississippi a few years earlier. Emmett’s father also had found a job at Corn Products [where Fred Hampton’s father worked]. One of Iberia’s [Fred Hampton’s mother] first Chicago acquaintances was Fannie Wesley, Emmett Till’s regular babysitter. Because Iberia stayed home with her three kids until Fred, the youngest, was eight, she helped Fannie by sometimes watching Emmett.” -From, “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” By: Jeffrey Haas

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