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A Case for the Use of Graphic Pictures

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

By Jill Stanek

[Note: Jill Stanek is the nurse who exposed the practice of "live-birth abortion" at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois.]

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black kid from Chicago. In the summer of 1955, Emmett convinced his mom to let him visit relatives in Mississippi.

Although Mrs. Till put Emmett on the train with a warning that things were different for blacks in the South, he had no idea just how different things were until he was beaten and murdered.

His crime? Whistling at and talking to a white girl.

On August 24, while hanging out with his cousins, Emmett was caught in a dare. He had told the other youngsters a white teenager in a picture he carried was his girlfriend back in Chicago. They dared him to go into a small grocery store in Money, Mississippi, owned by the Bryant family and say hello to the white woman working there. Emmett went in, bought some gum with a couple of pennies, and then said, "Bye, Baby" to Carolyn Bryant, the storeowner's wife.(source: www.bluejeansplace.com/EmmettTillMurderSite.html)

This juvenile prank led to a nightmare come to life. Three days later, two of Bryant’s relatives pulled Emmett from his uncle’s home, stripped him naked, beat him beyond recognition, shot him in the head, and dumped his body into the Tallahatchie River.

I don’t know if I would have had the wherewithal to do what Emmett’s mother did upon receiving her boy in his casket back in Chicago, but her understanding of the situation and ensuing actions helped ignite a movement and change history: Mrs. Till insisted on an open casket and encouraged Jet magazine to publish pictures of her slain, disfigured son.

She said, "After the body arrived I knew I had to look and see and make sure it was Emmett. That was when I decided that I wanted the whole world to see what I had seen. There was no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see." (source: www.panopt.com/photogra/withers/fulewtill05.html)

Some 50,000 people viewed Emmett’s mutilated body over the course of three days. And Jet magazine ran the pictures (www.panopt.com/photogra/withers/fulewtill05.html), which, as history unfolded, were later credited with initiating the modern-day Civil Rights movement.

John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, recalls… "There were people on the staff who were squeamish about the photographs. I had reservations, too, but I decided finally that if it happened it was our responsibility to print it and let the world experience man's inhumanity to man."
Colbert I. King, today a columnist for The Washington Post, still remembers the photo he saw in Jet as a youngster. He wrote the following earlier this year: "We got the chance to see what he looked like with his skull crushed in, a bullet in his head, an eye gouged out, and his decomposed body finally freed from the barbed wire they had wrapped around his frame and the 100-pound cotton gin exhaust fan they had wired to his neck to keep him down on the bottom of the Tallahatchie…."
"The issue [of Jet], which went out on sale on September 15, 1955,’ recalled Johnson, "sold out immediately and did as much as any other event to traumatize Black America and prepare the way for the Freedom Movement of the sixties." (source: ibid.)

I didn’t know Emmett’s story the first time I decided to hold a graphic picture of an aborted baby at a pro-life picket some three years ago.

I had become involved in the Illinois pro-life movement by my experience at Christ Hospital, and although I welcomed anyone’s help, I was a tad squeamish when Joe Scheidler and Pro-Life Action League came to picket with their graphic signs.

But during one particular picket, while I was quietly holding my nongraphic sign next to Joe holding his "Baby Malachi" graphic sign, I began to dwell on that little aborted baby’s picture.

I decided he looked a little older than the aborted baby I had held. I noted his dark hair and beautiful little round head, even though half his face was torn off, and his bodyless head was being held by forceps. I imagined how his hair should have smelled like baby lotion.

Suddenly, Baby Malachi became a real baby to me. And I began to feel ashamed that I was embarrassed about his one and only baby picture, grotesque as it was. I thought, what difference will Baby Malachi’s life and death make if I don’t honor him by showing the world what was done to him?

You can guess that I went over to the pile of signs then and there and picked up my own "Baby Malachi" sign. Ever since, I have purposefully held a graphic aborted baby sign at any picket I’ve attended.

It is indisputable that it was the pictures of Emmett Till’s murdered, mutilated body, and not just his story on its own merit, that sparked another movement not so long ago to stop others like Emmett from being treated as nonpersons.

Did you look at Emmett's picture? If so, with whom did you become angry, the picture-taker or the people who did that to Emmett?

Who would have been happiest had Emmett Till’s pictures not been made public?

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