Art Historian Darby English on Imagery and Emmett Till at REDCAT

Darby English, Emmett Till

'Standing at the Grave of Emmett Till, Day of Exhumation, June 1st, 2005 (Alsip, IL)

In tomorrow evening’s (Nov. 3) CalArts’ Aesthetics & Politics Lecture Series talk at REDCAT, University of Chicago art historian and faculty member Darby English discusses Emmett Till in the Present Tense.

In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was mutilated and murdered in Mississippi for whistling at Carolyn Bryant: Till was African-American; Bryant was white.

When Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River, he was almost unrecognizable—from the savage beating, shooting and the bloat from the water. His mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted that her son’s body be returned to Chicago for burial; and in a decision that would eventually help catalyze the Civil Rights movement, she also insisted on an open-casket funeral.

Photographs of his corpse in the coffin circulated around the country, most prominently in Jet magazine.

From the program notes:

[English] considers a number of contemporary photographs that indirectly pose heretofore unasked questions about Till’s historical subjectivity, the event of social transgression, and art’s ability not merely to reflect, but to intervene substantively in debates about how we remember Till.

Following the lecture, CalArts faculty member and series curator Douglas Kearney will moderate a Q&A with Darby, whose essay “Emmett Till Ever After,” will appear in Black Is, Black Ain’t, a book forthcoming from the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago.

Darby English: Emmett Till in the Present Tense
Aesthetics & Politics Lecture Series
Thursday, Nov. 3 at 8:30 pm
Tickets: $10, $5 students and free to the CalArts community

Below is an NPR commentary on how the Till imagery impacted columnist Clarence Page.

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