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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Emmett’

by Karanja A. Ajanaku

kajanaku@tsdmemphis.com

The year 1985 marked 30 years after the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi. Three years later, Clenora Hudson’s Ford Doctoral Dissertation shed the most scholarly light shown on the horrific tragedy up to that time.

On Friday (Aug. 28), the 60th anniversary of Till’s death was noted in various parts of the country in myriad ways. And while many do not associate their awareness of Till’s death to Dr. Hudson, there is a good case to be made that in some fashion they should.

Hudson’s fourth book on Till’s death – “Emmett” with the subtitle “Legacy, Redemption and Forgiveness” – is now being extended to the reading public. It is, she says, the last she plans to write on a subject that has been her passion for three decades.

“I started with this – ‘Emmett Till: The Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil Rights Movement’ – and I’m closing out with this,” she says, pointing to her latest work while sitting in the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery on Beale Street in Downtown Memphis.

At 137 pages, “Emmett” is a quick and intriguing read. While it accounts for Till’s gruesome murder, the discovery of his disfigured body in the Tallahatchie River after he whistled at a 21-year-old white woman in Money, Miss. and the “mock trial” that ended in the acquittal of the two accused of murder, none of those elements is the crux of this story.

What readers really get fresh in “Emmett” is the intensity of the stand Hudson takes in asserting, “the true ugliness of racism, symbolized by Emmett’s bloated face, must be eradicated.”

This position is set up by the stories of the book’s essential characters – Till’s mother, Mamie Till; Rayfield Mooty, a labor union leader, civil rights activist and Mamie Till’s second cousin and advisor; attorney John Whitten Jr., who delivered the closing remarks in defense of the accused killers, and Hudson herself.

Readers new to Hudson’s works are made aware of what those familiar with her research/literary efforts already know about her characterization of Mamie Till, Mooty and Whitten. Namely that Till made “a lifetime commitment to her only child to change racist minds and laws in America with the help of God”; that

On the eve (Aug. 27) of the 60th anniversary of the death of Emmett Till, pioneering Till-scholar Dr. Clenora Hudson was in Memphis on Beale Street sharing insight into her latest book: “Emmett…Legacy, Redemption and Forgiveness.” (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

On the eve (Aug. 27) of the 60th anniversary of the death of Emmett Till, pioneering Till-scholar Dr. Clenora Hudson was in Memphis on Beale Street sharing insight into her latest book: “Emmett…Legacy, Redemption and Forgiveness.” (Photo: Karanja A. A. aku)

Moody was “the supreme strategist” in that endeavor; and that Whitten evolved into “an exemplar for correcting racist attitudes and acts.”

Over the years – and as others have followed Hudson’s pioneering research establishing the Till case as the true catalyst of the civil rights movement – she has labored to make sure the record accurately reflected the nature and uniqueness of her research. Acknowledging how and when her research began and took place are pivotal to that effort.

Hudson’s dissertation challenged the historical notion up to that point – that Rosa Parks’ refusal-to-give-up-her-seat protest was the key event that led from civil rights movement sparks to a full-fledged fire. It took guts on multiple levels to do that.

Having built upon the premise that Till’s death was the catalyst of the civil rights movement via her first book and the two that followed, Hudson now is focused on racial healing. She uses this book to elevate what she sees as racial healing’s building blocks – redemption and forgiveness – and to hammer the need home.

“Emmett”

“Legacy, Redemption and Forgiveness”

by Clenora Hudson, PhD

Publisher: AuthorHouse

5/5/2015

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