The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 in Money, Mississippi, is remembered as one of the most brutal and heinous crimes committed during the Jim Crow era. His death served as a catalyst for change, and accelerated the civil rights movement of the 1950s-’60s.
But his story still needs to be told, actor Taye Diggs said.
Diggs, 49, recently began tweeting about Till and the foundation established in his name to continue the teen’s legacy.
“It recently came to my attention that there is an @EmmettTill account on Twitter and that it only had approximately 3,500 followers,” Diggs said in an email interview with the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. “The account is maintained by Emmett Till’s family through the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.”
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Once Diggs began tweeting about Till and the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, the number of followers quickly rose to nearly 37,000.
“The @EmmettTill account has been on Twitter for more than 10 years,” he said. “Given Emmett Till’s historical importance, and continued and current importance to the civil rights movement, I thought @EmmettTill should have a much more robust presence.”
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Diggs pointed out some of the work done by the foundation, including the introduction of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which is making its way through Congress, and the family’s donation of Till’s casket to the National Museum of African American History.
“I decided to focus my Twitter account on making sure the @EmmettTill account expands its reach as much as possible and to help amplify the important messages of The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.”
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Foundation co-founder and Till’s cousin Deborah Watts said Diggs’ support has brought a new awareness of her cousin’s death, the crimes committed against him and the fact that no one has ever been convicted for his slaying.
“It helps us expand our platform, our voice,” she said. “And there is no better time than now, given everything that’s going on and what we’re trying to accomplish as well. We’re pleased, honored, ecstatic about that.
“I think he has allowed us to expand to a whole different audience.”
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Watts said in addition to generating new followers, the foundation’s social media accounts and website have been more active.
“We have had a lot of inquiries, wondering what our foundation is about and what are our goals, and I think people are also curious about who Emmett Till is,” Watts said.
Diggs said he has no personal connection with the Till family or the foundation but felt the foundation should have a lot more attention than it was getting, so he took it on himself to ask his fans to follow the account.
“I believe Emmett Till’s brutal murder is one of the most important events in our history,” he said. “I also believe (Till’s mother) Mamie Till-Mobley’s decision to have an open casket funeral and arrange to have Emmett Till’s photos published in Jet Magazine is one of the most heroic acts ever in our history.”
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Saturday will mark what would have been Till’s 79th birthday. The 65th anniversary of his death is Aug. 28. This week, the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation launched a yearlong online campaign to bring justice in Till’s case.
Each year, the foundation asks supporters to wear black and white on the anniversaries of his birth and death.
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The online campaign for justice was launched to raise awareness that in the 65 years since Till was murdered, the family has not received justice. The men who admitted to killing Till were acquitted at trial.
The foundation is asking supporters to “hold law enforcement accountable to move this case forward” and to “demand Justice for Emmett Till while the case remains open and active with the Department of Justice.”
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Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who accused Till of whistling at her, has never been charged for her role in Till’s death.
Donham’s then-husband Roy Bryant, his half-brother J. W. Milam and others kidnapped Till from his family’s home and beat the teen, lynched him and then shot him in the head before throwing his body in the Tallahatchie River.
Watts said the two men also profited from Till’s death by selling their story.
She said she hopes this is the year authorities will move forward and prosecute Donham and others who were involved.
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But the foundation is about more than remembering the past, Watts said.
“We wanted to make sure we built this bridge from the past to the present and the future,” she said.
Taye Diggs asks for action, support
Diggs said it is important to continue to remember what happened to Till and others and what is continuing to happen today. He encourages people to contact the foundation to learn more about Till and the work the foundation is doing to build social justice and better race relations.
“The Till family, led by Mamie Till-Mobley has been one of the most important catalysts for civil rights over the last six and a half decades,” he said. “Please reach out to them and see how you can help their mission and the other families who have experienced similar tragedies.
“Learning from history and continuing to stay invested with the legacies of our icons is extremely important to helping make sure the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain traction and momentum.”
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This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Taye Diggs helping to raise Emmett Till social media awareness