Filmmaker, panel revisit a historic hate crime, and reflect on its relevance today

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November 16, 2019
Contact: Kate Coscarelli
Four days before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus, she attended a packed meeting about a 14-year-old Chicago boy named Emmett Till who was kidnapped and lynched while visiting family in Mississippi. 
Parks would later say that young Emmett’s brutal murder was foremost on her mind when she stayed seated on that bus. And eight years later, when time came to pick a date for the March on Washington, the date organizers selected—Aug. 28—was no accident. It was the anniversary of Till’s murder.

“The story of Emmett Till was a blueprint to our liberation,” said filmmaker Keith Beauchamp at a Nov. 13 program at the New Jersey Law Center. To keep up the fight for justice, he said, “We must go back and understand what sparked the movement.”
Beauchamp spoke as part of a New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education program on Till’s murder and lessons for lawyers from that case. Thomas H. Prol, a past president of the New Jersey State Bar Association, moderated a panel discussion that included Dara Govan, an assistant U.S. attorney in Newark; Stanley King, of King & King in Woodbury; James A. Lewis V, of Pennington Law Group in South Orange; and Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
The panel reflected on the relevance of the case, as well as the challenges of trying hate crimes and civil rights cases in the courts today.
At the time of the murder, two men were acquitted by an all-white male jury in a trial that, Beauchamp said, was really more about identifying Till’s body than it was about the lynching and kidnapping itself. Months later, the pair confessed to the murder in a paid interview for
Look magazine.
Beauchamp made the 2005 documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” and is currently working on a feature film titled “Till.” His documentary is available on YouTube and he urged everyone to watch it. “I put it there for a reason.”