Poetry Friday: Emmylou Harris – “My Name is Emmet Till”

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Poetry Friday is hosted by Laura Purdie Salas 

On Wednesday night, I had a chance to see the one and only Emmylou Harris at the Tarrytown Music Hall, on the banks of the Hudson River.   She opened with some much loved favorites, ones that made our feet tap, and our bodies sway.  We were all smiling and settling into our “concert zone” when Emmylou segued into a  song I love, and have shared with my students when we are in our social justice unit.  This is a song that never fails to move me…especially these days, the days of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.  This is a song that we need to keep singing, to remember them all…and to keep working towards a day when we can:

Watch him grow into a kinder world
Than I had known
Where no child would be murdered
For the color of his skin
And love would be the only thing
Inside the hearts of men

“My Name Is Emmett Till”

I was born a black boy
My name is Emmett Till
Walked this earth for 14 years
One night I was killed
For speaking to a woman
Whose skin was white as dough
That’s a sin in Mississippi
But how was I to know?I’d come down from Chicago
To visit with my kin
Up there I was a cheeky kid
I guess I’d always been
But the harm they put upon me
Was too hard for what I’d done
For I was just a black boy
And never hurt no one

They took me from my uncle’s house
Mose Wright was his name.
He’d later stand and, without hesitation
Point the blame
At the ones who beat and cut me
And shot me with a gun
And threw me in the river
Like I was trash when they were done

I was sent back to my mother
At least what was left of me
She kept my casket open
For the whole wide world to see
The awful desecration
And the evidence of hate
You could not recognize me
The mutilation was so great

There came a cry for justice
To be finally fulfilled
All because of me, a black boy
My name was Emmett Till

Oh, but I’d have rather lived
Till I was too old to die young
Not miss all I left behind
And all that might have come
Summer clouds above my head
The grass beneath my feet
The warmth of a good woman
Her kisses soft and sweet

Perhaps to be a father
With a black boy of my own
Watch him grow into a kinder world
Than I had known
Where no child would be murdered
For the color of his skin
And love would be the only thing
Inside the hearts of men

They say the horror of that night
Is haunting Heaven still
Where I am one more black boy
My name is Emmett Till

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17 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Emmylou Harris – “My Name is Emmet Till”

  1. Oh, my. A few tears on a Thursday night for me. Just reading these words–I haven’t even watched the video yet. Thanks for sharing this, Tara. My favorite part is:

    Perhaps to be a father
    With a black boy of my own
    Watch him grow into a kinder world
    Than I had known

  2. Tara,Emmylou’s voice is so engaging as she sings this song of a tragic day. Thank you for sharing this video that speaks of a time that seems to be quite familiar today. If only we could have a kinder world where no child would be murdered for the color of his skin.

  3. There’s a way to start the day…tearfully reminded of why it’s so important for me to teach not only only tolerance but compassion and respect RIGHT NOW before my 5’s learn something different.

    Thanks, Tara and Emmy Lou.

  4. Lucky you, seeing Emmylou Harris in person!
    It’s baffling and sad to think we’ve still got such a long ways to go when it comes to these issues of social justice, racism, etc. Thanks for sharing the video and lyrics.

  5. Appreciations for your sharing the poem “My Name is Emmet Till” about the tortured & murdered child, lost to his family way back in 1955 when he was 14, yet here in recent years, we are still losing young men in racially charged deaths. I applaud Emmylou Harris for writing this poem. And it also brings to mind Marilyn Nelson’s book, A POEM FOR EMMET TILL, which is fortunately receiving a lot of attention in public & classroom libraries. Important post. Glad you could attend the concert.

  6. I like that you had the joy of seeing Emmy Lou, but what a sad song she sang, although isn’t it wonderful that she did? Thanks Tara, that last part is chilling: “They say the horror of that night
    Is haunting Heaven still
    Where I am one more black boy…

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