Archive | November, 2019

Sacha Baron Cohen

26 Nov

/ Sacha Baron Cohen’s Keynote Address at ADL’s…

ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE USCYBERHATEEXTREMISM, TERRORISM & BIGOTRY

Sacha Baron Cohen’s Keynote Address at ADL’s 2019 Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate

Remarks by Sacha Baron Cohen, Recipient of ADL’s International Leadership Award

November 21, 2019

Sacha Baron Cohen gives award speech

Thank you, Jonathan, for your very kind words. Thank you, ADL, for this recognition and your work in fighting racism, hate and bigotry. And to be clear, when I say “racism, hate and bigotry” I’m not referring to the names of Stephen Miller’s Labradoodles.

Now, I realize that some of you may be thinking, what the hell is a comedian doing speaking at a conference like this! I certainly am. I’ve spent most of the past two decades in character. In fact, this is the first time that I have ever stood up and given a speech as my least popular character, Sacha Baron Cohen. And I have to confess, it is terrifying.

I realize that my presence here may also be unexpected for another reason. At times, some critics have said my comedy risks reinforcing old stereotypes.

The truth is, I’ve been passionate about challenging bigotry and intolerance throughout my life. As a teenager in the UK, I marched against the fascist National Front and to abolish Apartheid. As an undergraduate, I traveled around America and wrote my thesis about the civil rights movement, with the help of the archives of the ADL. And as a comedian, I’ve tried to use my characters to get people to let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe, including their own prejudice.

Now, I’m not going to claim that everything I’ve done has been for a higher purpose. Yes, some of my comedy, OK probably half my comedy, has been absolutely juvenile and the other half completely puerile. I admit, there was nothing particularly enlightening about me—as Borat from Kazakhstan, the first fake news journalist—running through a conference of mortgage brokers when I was completely naked.

But when Borat was able to get an entire bar in Arizona to sing “Throw the Jew down the well,” it did reveal people’s indifference to anti-Semitism. When—as Bruno, the gay fashion reporter from Austria—I started kissing a man in a cage fight in Arkansas, nearly starting a riot, it showed the violent potential of homophobia. And when—disguised as an ultra-woke developer—I proposed building a mosque in one rural community, prompting a resident to proudly admit, “I am racist, against Muslims”—it showed the acceptance of Islamophobia.

That’s why I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you. Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason—the era of evidential argument—is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.

What do all these dangerous trends have in common? I’m just a comedian and an actor, not a scholar. But one thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.

The greatest propaganda machine in history.

Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others—they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged—stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

When I, as the wanna-be-gansta Ali G, asked the astronaut Buzz Aldrin “what woz it like to walk on de sun?” the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts. If you believe the moon landing was a hoax, the joke was not funny.

When Borat got that bar in Arizona to agree that “Jews control everybody’s money and never give it back,” the joke worked because the audience shared the fact that the depiction of Jews as miserly is a conspiracy theory originating in the Middle Ages.

But when, thanks to social media, conspiracies take hold, it’s easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections, and easier for a country like Myanmar to commit genocide against the Rohingya.

It’s actually quite shocking how easy it is to turn conspiracy thinking into violence. In my last show Who is America?, I found an educated, normal guy who had held down a good job, but who, on social media, repeated many of the conspiracy theories that President Trump, using Twitter, has spread more than 1,700 times to his 67 million followers. The President even tweeted that he was considering designating Antifa—anti-fascists who march against the far right—as a terror organization.

So, disguised as an Israel anti-terrorism expert, Colonel Erran Morad, I told my interviewee that, at the Women’s March in San Francisco, Antifa were plotting to put hormones into babies’ diapers in order to “make them transgender.” And he believed it.

I instructed him to plant small devices on three innocent people at the march and explained that when he pushed a button, he’d trigger an explosion that would kill them all. They weren’t real explosives, of course, but he thought they were. I wanted to see—would he actually do it?

The answer was yes. He pushed the button and thought he had actually killed three human beings. Voltaire was right, “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” And social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people.

In their defense, these social media companies have taken some steps to reduce hate and conspiracies on their platforms, but these steps have been mostly superficial.

I’m speaking up today because I believe that our pluralistic democracies are on a precipice and that the next twelve months, and the role of social media, could be determinant. British voters will go to the polls while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of “great replacement” that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants. Americans will vote for president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a “Hispanic invasion.” And after years of YouTube videos calling climate change a “hoax,” the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris Accords. A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet—this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.

I believe it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies. Last month, however, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook delivered a major speech that, not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. Well, some of these arguments are simply absurd. Let’s count the ways.

First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as “choices…around free expression.” That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet. Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, anti-Semites and child abusers. But I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.

Second, Zuckerberg claimed that new limits on what’s posted on social media would be to “pull back on free expression.” This is utter nonsense. The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech, however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms.

If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not! The restaurant owner has every legal right and a moral obligation to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies.

Third, Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of “the most repressive societies.” Incredible. This, from one of the six people who decide what information so much of the world sees. Zuckerberg at Facebook, Sundar Pichai at Google, at its parent company Alphabet, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki at YouTube and Jack Dorsey at Twitter.

The Silicon Six—all billionaires, all Americans—who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism—six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut.

Here’s an idea. Instead of letting the Silicon Six decide the fate of the world, let our elected representatives, voted for by the people, of every democracy in the world, have at least some say.

Fourth, Zuckerberg speaks of welcoming a “diversity of ideas,” and last year he gave us an example. He said that he found posts denying the Holocaust “deeply offensive,” but he didn’t think Facebook should take them down “because I think there are things that different people get wrong.” At this very moment, there are still Holocaust deniers on Facebook, and Google still takes you to the most repulsive Holocaust denial sites with a simple click. One of the heads of Google once told me, incredibly, that these sites just show “both sides” of the issue. This is madness.

To quote Edward R. Murrow, one “cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument.” We have millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust—it is an historical fact. And denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.

Still, Zuckerberg says that “people should decide what is credible, not tech companies.” But at a time when two-thirds of millennials say they haven’t even heard of Auschwitz, how are they supposed to know what’s “credible?” How are they supposed to know that the lie is a lie?

There is such a thing as objective truth. Facts do exist. And if these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.

Fifth, when discussing the difficulty of removing content, Zuckerberg asked “where do you draw the line?” Yes, drawing the line can be difficult. But here’s what he’s really saying: removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive.

These are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world. They could fix these problems if they wanted to. Twitter could deploy an algorithm to remove more white supremacist hate speech, but they reportedly haven’t because it would eject some very prominent politicians from their platform. Maybe that’s not a bad thing! The truth is, these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.

It’s time to finally call these companies what they really are—the largest publishers in history. And here’s an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines and TV news do every day. We have standards and practices in television and the movies; there are certain things we cannot say or do. In England, I was told that Ali G could not curse when he appeared before 9pm. Here in the U.S., the Motion Picture Association of America regulates and rates what we see. I’ve had scenes in my movies cut or reduced to abide by those standards. If there are standards and practices for what cinemas and television channels can show, then surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide by basic standards and practices too.

Take the issue of political ads. Fortunately, Twitter finally banned them, and Google is making changes, too. But if you pay them, Facebook will run any “political” ad you want, even if it’s a lie. And they’ll even help you micro-target those lies to their users for maximum effect. Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his “solution” to the “Jewish problem.” So here’s a good standard and practice: Facebook, start fact-checking political ads before you run them, stop micro-targeted lies immediately, and when the ads are false, give back the money and don’t publish them.

Here’s another good practice: slow down. Every single post doesn’t need to be published immediately. Oscar Wilde once said that “we live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.” But is having every thought or video posted instantly online, even if it is racist or criminal or murderous, really a necessity? Of course not!

The shooter who massacred Muslims in New Zealand live streamed his atrocity on Facebook where it then spread across the internet and was viewed likely millions of times. It was a snuff film, brought to you by social media. Why can’t we have more of a delay so this trauma-inducing filth can be caught and stopped before it’s posted in the first place?

Finally, Zuckerberg said that social media companies should “live up to their responsibilities,” but he’s totally silent about what should happen when they don’t. By now it’s pretty clear, they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. As with the Industrial Revolution, it’s time for regulation and legislation to curb the greed of these high-tech robber barons.

In every other industry, a company can be held liable when their product is defective. When engines explode or seatbelts malfunction, car companies recall tens of thousands of vehicles, at a cost of billions of dollars. It only seems fair to say to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter: your product is defective, you are obliged to fix it, no matter how much it costs and no matter how many moderators you need to employ.

In every other industry, you can be sued for the harm you cause. Publishers can be sued for libel, people can be sued for defamation. I’ve been sued many times! I’m being sued right now by someone whose name I won’t mention because he might sue me again! But social media companies are largely protected from liability for the content their users post—no matter how indecent it is—by Section 230 of, get ready for it, the Communications Decency Act. Absurd!

Fortunately, Internet companies can now be held responsible for pedophiles who use their sites to target children. I say, let’s also hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites to advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion. And maybe fines are not enough. Maybe it’s time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies: you already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections, you already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar, do it again and you go to jail.

In the end, it all comes down to what kind of world we want. In his speech, Zuckerberg said that one of his main goals is to “uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible.” Yet our freedoms are not only an end in themselves, they’re also the means to another end—as you say here in the U.S., the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But today these rights are threatened by hate, conspiracies and lies.

Allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society. The ultimate aim of society should be to make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, who they love or how they pray

If we make that our aim—if we prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses—then maybe, just maybe, we can stop the greatest propaganda machine in history, we can save democracy, we can still have a place for free speech and free expression, and, most importantly, my jokes will still work.

Thank you all very much.

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Emmett

23 Nov

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Emmett Till’s Casket Goes to the Smithsonian, NOVEMBER 2009

Simeon Wright recalls the events surrounding his cousin’s murder and the importance of having the casket on public display

image:

Simeon Wright

Simeon Wright, 67, is Emmett Till’s cousin and was with him the night Till was kidnapped and murdered. (M. Spencer Green / AP Images)

By Abby Callard

SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE | SUBSCRIBE

NOVEMBER 2009

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In 1955, Emmett Till—a 14-year-old African-American visiting Mississippi from Chicago—was murdered after whistling at a white woman. His mother insisted that her son be displayed in a glass-topped casket, so the world could see his beaten body. Till’s murder became a rallying point for the civil rights movement, and his family recently donated the casket in which he was buried to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Till’s cousin Simeon Wright, 67, who was with him the night he was kidnapped and murdered, spoke with the magazine’s Abby Callard.

What was Emmett like?

He loved to tell jokes and loved for people to tell him jokes. In school, he might pull the fire alarm just to get out of class. To him that would be funny. We found out that what was dangerous to us was funny to him. He really had no sense of danger.

What happened at the store between Emmett and Carolyn Bryant has been debated, what do you remember happening?

We went to the store that night. My nephew that came down from Chicago with Emmett went into the store first, and Emmett went in the store after him. So Wheeler came out, and Maurice sent me inside the store to be with him to make sure he didn’t say anything out of line. There was about less than a minute that he was in there by himself. During that time I don’t know what he said, but when I was in there, he said nothing to her. He didn’t have time, she was behind the counter, so he didn’t put his arms around her or anything like that. While I was in there he said nothing. But, after we left the store, we both walked out together, she came outside going to her car. As she was going to her car, he did whistle at her. That’s what scared her so bad. The only thing that I saw him do was that he did whistle.

Because he was from Chicago, do you think Emmett’s unfamiliarity with the South during the Jim Crow era contributed to what happened?

It could have been the reason he did it, because he was warned not to do anything like that, how he was supposed to act. I think what he did was trying to impress us. He said, “You guys might be afraid to do something like this, but not me.” Another thing. He really didn’t know the danger. He had no idea how dangerous that was; because when he saw our reaction, he got scared too.

You were in the same bed as Emmett when the two men came for him, right?

Yes, when they came that night, that Sunday morning, he and I were in the same bed. I was the first one to wake up because I heard the noise and the loud talking. The men made me lie back down and ordered Emmett to get up and put his clothes on. During that time, I had no idea what was going on. Pretty soon, my mother came in there pleading with them not to take Emmett. At that point, she offered them money. One of the men, Roy Bryant, he kind of hesitated at the idea but J.W. Milam, he was a mean guy. He was the guy with the gun and the flashlight, he wouldn’t hear of it. He continued to have Emmett put his clothes on. Then, after Emmett was dressed, they marched him out of the house into a truck that was waiting outside. When they got out to the truck, they asked the person inside the truck, “Was this the right boy.” A lady’s voice responded that it was.

You attended the trial. Were you at all surprised that the murderers were acquitted?

I was shocked. I was expecting a verdict of guilty. I’m still shocked. I believe sincerely that if they had convicted those men 54 years ago that Emmett’s story wouldn’t have been in the headlines. We’d have forgotten about it by now.

Your family left Mississippi after the trial, right?

My mother left the same night [he was taken]. She left that house, she didn’t leave Mississippi, she left that house and went to a place called Sumner, where they had the trial. Her brother lived in Sumner, and she stayed there until his body was found. She was on the same train that his body was going back to Chicago. We left, my dad and my two brothers, left the Saturday, the Monday after the verdict. The verdict came in on a Friday, I believe, that Monday we were on a train headed to Chicago.

Why did you leave?

My mother was, she was so scared and there was no way that my dad was going to be able to live there anymore. After the verdict, my dad was so disappointed. He had had enough of Mississippi. He had heard of things like this happening to African Americans, but nothing had ever happened to him like that—firsthand victim of racism, and the Jim Crow system. He said that was enough. He just didn’t want no part of Mississippi anymore.

How did you and the rest of your family feel about Emmett’s mother’s decision to hold the funeral with an open casket?

Well, an open casket is a common thing in African American tradition. But one of the reasons they didn’t want her to open the casket was because of the stench, because of the smell. They designed the casket with the glass over it and what not. She said it herself, she wanted to world to see what those men had done to her son because no one would have believed it if they didn’t the picture or didn’t see the casket. No one would have believed it. And when they saw what happened, this motivated a lot of people that were standing, what we call “on the fence,” against racism. It encouraged them to get in the fight and do something about it. That’s why many say that that was the beginning of the civil rights era. From experience, you can add, what they mean by that is we was always as a people, African Americans, was fighting for our civil rights, but now we had the whole nation behind us. We had whites, we had Jews, Italians, Irishmen jumping in the fight, saying that racism was wrong.

How did the casket become available?

In 2005, we had to exhume Emmett’s body. The State of Mississippi would not reopen the case unless we could prove that the body buried at the cemetery was Emmett’s. State law prohibited us from placing that casket back into the grave, so we had to bury him in a new casket. We set this casket aside to preserve it because the cemetery was planning on making a memorial for Emmett and his mother. They was going to move his mother and have the casket on display. But you see what happened, someone took the money and discarded the casket in the shed.

How did you find out about the casket?

A radio personality called me about six in the morning asking me questions about it. They were on top of what was going on at the cemetery. I told him what was supposed to happen to the casket. He kept asking me questions and I said “Wait a minute, let me go out there and check and see. I don’t know what’s going on. Let me go out to cemetery and get some answers, find out what’s going on out there.” That’s when I saw the casket sitting in the shed deteriorating. The last time my cousin saw the casket it was inside of the building, preserved. We don’t know who moved it out into the shed but I got a chance to see it, it was just horrible the way they had discarded it like that without even notifying us. They could have called the family, but they didn’t.

Why did you decide to donate the casket to the Smithsonian?

Donating it to the Smithsonian was beyond our wildest dreams. We had no idea that it would go that high. We wanted to preserve it, we wanted to donate it to a civil rights museum. Smithsonian, I mean that’s the top of the line. It didn’t even cross our mind that it would go there, but when they expressed interested an in it, we was overjoyed. I mean, people are going to come from all over the world. And they’re going to view this casket, and they’re going to ask questions. “What’s the purpose of it?” And then their mothers or fathers or a curator, whoever is leading them through the museum, they’ll begin to explain to them the story, what happened to Emmett. What he did in Mississippi and how it cost him his life. And how a racist jury knew that these men were guilty, but then they go free. They’ll get a chance to hear the story, then they’ll be able to… perhaps, a lot of these young kids perhaps, they will dedicate their lives to law enforcement or something like that. They will go out and do their best to help the little guys that can’t help themselves. Because in Mississippi, in 1955, we had no one to help us, not even the law enforcement. No one to help us. I hope that this will inspire our younger generation to be helpers to one another.

What feelings do you experience when you see the casket today?

I see something that held the object of a mother’s unconditional love. And then I see a love that was interrupted and shattered by racial hatred without a cause. It brings back memories that some would like to forget, but to forget is to deny life itself. For as you grow older, you are going to find out life is laced with memories. You’re going to talk about the good old days. When you get 50, you’re going to talk about your teenage days. You’re going to listen to music from the teenage days. You don’t have to believe me, just trust me on that. I’m not talking about what I read in a book. I’m talking about what I’ve experienced already. Also, it brings to our memories where we have been and where we are now and where we’re going. People look at this casket and say, “You mean to tell me this happened in America?” And we will have a part of the artifacts from that era to prove to them that things like this went on in America. Just like the Civil War. By histories of the Civil War. Even today, it seems impossible to me that the Civil War took place in America. Here you have white fathers and sons fighting against each other. Mothers and daughters fighting against each other because one felt that slavery was wrong and one felt that it was all right. And they began to kill each over that. That’s hard for me to believe but I see the statues. I see the statues of the solders, the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers, and it just helps us to believe the past. This casket’s going to help millions to understand and believe that racism, the Jim Crow system, was alive and well in America back in 1955.

What is your hope for the casket?

Well, I hope, I know one thing, it’s going to speak louder than pictures, books or films because this casket is the very image of what has been written or displayed on these pictures. I hope it’s going to make people think “If I had been there in 1955, I would have done all I could to help that family.” If it could just evoke just that one thought in someone, it would be enough, because then they would go out and help their fellow man, their community and the church and the school, wherever. We have, you know, I just had a couple of months ago a young man, 14 years of age, committed suicide because of bullies in his school. If it could just evoke that one emotion, that “if I had been there, I would have helped you.” That’s all I want.

In what ways do you feel that Emmett’s story is still relevant today?

You know, it’s amazing that he is still relevant. Like I said at the beginning, the reason is because of the jury’s verdict. If the jury’s verdict had come in guilty, Emmett would have been forgotten about. But [Emmett’s story] shows people that if we allow lawlessness to go on, if we do nothing to punish those who break the law, then it’s going to get worse. It’s going to get worse. And we can look back and say, look what happened to Emmett. He was murdered for no reason, and those in charge did nothing about it. Wherever you have that, whatever city you have that in, it could be in Washington, it could be in New York, where you have murder and crime going on and the people do nothing about it, it’s going to increase and destroy your society.

Wright’s book, Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till (Lawrence Hill Books) will be released in January 2010.

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/oVmeHW4-yHiN-NOO86LAchlm8Bs=/60×60/https://public-media.si-cdn.com/filer/QA-Emmett-Till-2.jpg

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/Tt16x6AqOD4A0JUV3razwfPBVwA=/60×60/https://public-media.si-cdn.com/filer/QA-Simeon-Wright-1.jpg

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/imtUxXa9TI1el1T3ThcNDOwqx3Q=/60×60/https://public-media.si-cdn.com/filer/QA-Emmett-Till-glass-casket-3.jpg

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/P7ttxdxa6JpSvr6lLqIk3TkLzjY=/fit-in/1072×0/https://public-media.si-cdn.com/filer/QA-Emmett-Till-2.jpg

Emmett Till’s cousin, Simeon Wright, describes Till as someone who loved to tell jokes and loved for people to tell him jokes. (Associated Press)

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About Abby Callard

Abby Callard is an assistant editor at Milwaukee Magazine.

Read more from this author | Follow @Callarda

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