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'Emmett Till': A Poem of Sorrow, and Hope

Explaining Emmett Till's murder to children in 1955 wasn't easy. Even today, it's still hard to find the right words when teaching young people about Till's brutal death.

In 1955, 14-year-old Till was visiting relatives in a small Mississippi town when he was accused of giving a white woman a "wolf whistle" outside a market. Her husband and his half-brother pulled Till from the house where he was staying, drove him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head.

Despite eyewitness testimony, an all-white jury acquitted the two men of murder. Outrage over Till's death helped to mobilize the civil rights movement.

Marilyn Nelson, the poet laureate of Connecticut, has written a narrative poem, A Wreath for Emmett Till, especially for young readers.

Nelson spoke with Farai Chideya about her provocative poem, and about the lingering effect Till's murder still has had on the American psyche.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Farai Chideya
Farai Chideya is a multimedia journalist who has worked in print, television, online, and radio. Prior to joining NPR's News & Notes, Chideya hosted Your Call, a daily news and cultural call-in show on San Francisco's KALW 91.7 FM. Chideya has also been a correspondent for ABC News, anchored the prime time program Pure Oxygen on the Oxygen women's channel, and contributed commentaries to CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and BET. She got her start as a researcher and reporter at Newsweek magazine. In 1997 Newsweek named her to its "Century Club" of 100 people to watch.