It’s Not Really History


For the simple fact that it only happened half a century ago. In that time we witnessed changes for African-Americans like myself. nothing was overnight, but there was a catalyst. It was the most undesirable and despicable trigger we could’ve ever imagined for the Civil Rights Movement-the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago. Emmett Till.


I must’ve read the story a dozen times, assessing the situation and times. The conflicting evidence of whether or not Till whistled at a white woman. The subsequent murder and trial. The verdict. The outrage. I must make note of why I decided to illustrate this event, and why I’m bringing it up. Recently, rapper Lil’ Wayne came out with a song called ‘Karate Chop’ that had an obscene lyric in reference to Till, and Till’s family was nonetheless disgusted. They tried to reach the rapper with a two-page letter but even now (nearly three weeks after the song was leaked), he hasn’t responded. The record company pulled the song and apologized as is to be expected. But not him. Why?


I suppose he doesn’t have to apologize but the very least he could do is explain his reasoning behind the lyric. Artists have a responsibility. We are able to reach out and potentially influence others through various mediums and we can see a reflection of what we do in our culture. What does it say about our culture and in particular black culture when we bastardize our own history? In the wake of ‘Black History Month’ we so swiftly gloss over the past of our ancestors and come the 28th or 29th it’s back to being a memory. This is just Black History, it’s American History. The gesture of reducing our or any other group of people’s past to a month is met with contempt on my end.


As for creating these illustrations, it was something I hesitated to do. What only took fifteen hours altogether to finish spanned roughly two weeks. In that time I struggled with deciding whether or not I should show such graphic images and looking at the pictures of his body was unbearable. I ultimately decided to do so for two reasons.

For one, nothing that you see is an exaggeration. Every state of this boy’s death was his reality. Violence isn’t bashful or apologetic, and it can never be fully censored. The men who took Till’s life didn’t have the capacity to harbor these emotions. I wanted to bring awareness to the horrors that black people faced living in the Deep South in the post-Civil Rights era. So few people know his story.


The second reason is because of Till’s mother, Mamie. In the aftermath of her son’s death she allow the world to see the brutality of racism rampant. She saw his disfigured face up close, and had to live with that sight embedded into her memory. She became a leading force behind the Civil Rights Movement which was sparked by her son’s murder. If she could take all of that and still have any drop of motivation left in her to keep going, then why not me? Why not a poet or a singer, history teacher or professor? Anybody can if she can.


I don’t intend to stir the pot. I don’t intend to depress. I surely am not doing this to offend or upset the family. I am hopeful that people will learn the story and will be informed. It’s not really history because hatred and violence go on and on everywhere, and it’s not always enough to turn off the news or avoid the paper to ignore it. Sometimes all it takes is a song or an image.


“The Untold Story of EMMETT LUIS TILL (Documentary 2005) by Keith Beauchamp.” YouTube. YouTube, 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Williams, Brennan. “Emmett Till’s Family Responds To Lil Wayne Lyric In New Open Letter.” The Huffington Post., 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.



8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Media Drawn
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 07:04:51

    I think your comments on artist obligations are very well founded. Though if it were another rapper I wonder if the lyric would have received the same heat.

    However, you yourself communicated the struggle faced with adding the illustrations and did so out of respect for the truth and pursuit of change. The reality of racial violence is shocking, yet often ignored.This was such a powerful posting that really should be shared.


    • Victoriavann0
      Mar 12, 2013 @ 13:31:55

      Thank you. I think people expect to hear stupid things from Lil Wayne, but it would probably be more hush hush if someone else had said them. I’m more upset that he hasn’t said a word to anyone about this.


  2. Media Drawn
    Mar 14, 2013 @ 00:47:08

    The letter sent and addressed to Dwayne Carter Jr. is also online to read. I also found it interesting that Stevie Wonder said, “Sometimes people have to put themselves in the place of people who they are talking about.”

    Is a generational issue the reason behind Dwayne’s silence? Does he possess any empathetic intelligence at all? At the very least, he must recognize that his words, especially as a performer, are powerful. Apologies are hard enough for ordinary people. From Dwayne’s perspective it could be very difficult to own up to admitting a wrong within the confines of mainstream non-apologetic hip hop.


    • Victoriavann0
      Mar 14, 2013 @ 02:24:07

      I think his ego is in the way, and his position as well. Regardless he should say something but he probably won’t. It doesn’t seem to be in his nature to be humble.


  3. Media Drawn
    Mar 14, 2013 @ 18:46:24

    Could I reblog your post, keep the conversation going?


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