Editors Note: Today marks our first commentary from contributing editor Stephen Henderson, the Pulitzer-prize winning editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, where this column also appears.
When they buried Emmett Till in 1955, his mother, Mamie, wanted to be sure America could see her son’s battered face and head, the crushed bone and deep bruises inflicted by two Mississippi men who ravaged the life out of him. So she chose a casket with a glass top. If you could bring yourself to look inside, you couldn’t look away. And you couldn’t look past what the image said about the nation in which Till lived, where black men and boys could quickly be hung from trees or beaten to death for the slightest indiscretion, or for no reason at all. Mamie Till knew the image of her son in that casket, published in newspapers and magazines across the country, would be a call to an American reckoning, and to action.