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Subject: wwnews Digest #807
Date: Mon, 17 May 2004 06:30:52 +0000

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Date: Mon, 17 May 2004 00:09:59 -0400
Subject: [WW] Emmett Till, Malcolm X and the state

Emmett Till, Malcolm X and the capitalist state

By Monica Moorehead, Workers World, 20 May 2004

The U.S. Justice Department announ ced May 10 that it was reopening the case of Emmett Till—a case that is almost 50 years old.

In late August 1955, Till, a 14-year-old African American, was brutally lynched by a group of white segregationists while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi. He was murdered for supposedly whistling at a white woman. This terrible atrocity shocked people all around the country and the world.

Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, made sure that her son's coffin was open for public display to reveal his horribly disfigured face after the savage beating he received before being shot in the head and thrown in the Tallahatchie River. Fifty thousand outraged people, the majority Black, filed by his casket in his hometown of Chicago.

Till's lynching, one of countless thousands in the semi-enslaved South, was viewed by many as a major catalyst for the launching of the historic civil rights struggle.

Till's murder happened one year after the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down the racist separate but equal doctrine in public schools, and just four months before the Montgomery bus boycott. The civil rights bills were not passed until almost a decade later.

R. Alexander Acosta, a Justice Depart ment spokes person, stated at a news conference that there was renewed interest in the case. This interest really amounts to a lot of pressure by civil rights forces—50 years worth.

It was a 2003 PBS documentary called The Murder of Emmett Till that introduced a whole new generation to Till, the racist conditions that led to his death and the fact that no one was ever sentenced for his death.

Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted of Till's murder after just 67 minutes of deliberations by an all-white jury following a sham trial. The killers, who boasted gleefully in a 1956 Life magazine interview that they killed Till, are now dead. They knew that legally they could not be retried for this crime.

Mamie Till Mobley, now deceased, and others have long charged that more people were involved in the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. Based on the original trial testimony which the PBS documentary covered, Acosta stated, others implicated in Till's death could stand trial.

The Justice Department says it wants to right a terrible wrong in the Till case. But such claims runs counter to the sordid history of this appendage of the capitalist state when it comes to Black people and other people of color.


In the early 1950s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the armed wing of the Justice Department, created the Counter intelligence Program or Cointelpro. Did this program go after white supremacist groups like the KKK or other extra-legal terrorist formations? Absolutely not.

Cointelpro, with its anti-communist, racist ideology, went after any individual or group that espoused progressive social change or national liberation, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement.

Cointelpro kept files on progressive move ments and their leaders as a vehicle for infiltration, jailing and murder. One of the earliest targets of Cointelpro was the great Black revolutionary Malcolm X. Documents show that Cointelpro began a file on Malcolm X around 1953 when he was emerging as a prominent spokesperson of the Nation of Islam.

According to the files: ...Malcolm stated [at a Harlem NOI rally in 1961] that there is a law against kidnapping, lynching and raping. He stated that the FBI was sent to the South to find the lynchers of Mack Parker and Emmett Till. Malcolm stated that the FBI found the lynchers, but they went free and were not punished for their crimes. (Malcolm X: The FBI File, by Clayborne Carson)

While the FBI did keep files on the KKK, it refused to intervene in the original Till case and the cases of many related KKK murders, especially of civil rights activists. The U.S. government did everything it could, covertly and overtly, to hold back the advancement of the civil rights movement and to destroy the more radical Black liberation movement.

Malcolm X, who would have been 79 this May 19, was developing a more anti-imperialist position at the time of his assassination on February 21, 1965. The U.S. government, including the FBI, has been implicated in his death.

The death of Emmett Till and the ever-present revolutionary contributions of Malcolm X have helped to reveal the repressive nature of the capitalist state— the police, the courts and prisons.

The main reason the Justice Department wants to reopen the Till case is to restore its tarnished image worldwide, especially now that U.S. imperialism finds itself more and more isolated thanks to the colonial occupation of Iraq and the unprecedented torture scandal of Iraqi detainees.