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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Hall of Fame

Anonymous Male Student

LeFlore County High School, Itta Bena, MS, 1955 c.1939 – ?

Inducted 2021

Late in the summer of 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American from Chicago, spending the summer with relatives near Money, Mississippi, was brutally murdered after  (allegedly) offending a white woman in her grocery store. Several days later, his body was found in the Tallahatchie River. In Itta Bena, fifteen miles southwest, the football team at all-white LeFlore County High School was getting ready for practice when the following incident took place. In the words of Lewis Nordan, one of the players:

I remember very clearly the day that I first heard the name of Emmett Till. I was in a football locker room. We were getting dressed out, and the body had just been found. There were terrible jokes being made, and … I was … sitting there in that locker room listening to this, probably smiling, I don’t know, and some old boy, he said words I had never imagined a white boy saying before.

He said, “It’s not right to talk this way. He was just a kid who was killed, just like us. It don’t matter what color he was” And that moment I measure as the moment that changed my life.

Speaking up took only a minute, although in the social environment of the Mississippi Delta in 1955 it also took some courage. And you never know what a moment of anti-racism can do. In this case, it moved Lewis Nordan to think and then to learn. After graduating from high school, he worked all kinds of jobs, finally earned a Ph.D. in English, and started to write fiction in his 40s. He thought about the astounding racism of the Mississippi Delta – how an all-white jury found the two men who had killed Till innocent even though everyone knew they had done it. Thirty eight years later, he wrote a novel based on Till’s murder, Wolf Whistle. Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley read it, liked it, and they became friends.

This is not the place for an assessment of Lewis Nordan. Rather, we bring to your attention a man – well, a fifteen-year-old boy – who took an anti-racist stance. His brief comment hardly compares to the lifetime of pioneering anti-racist work put in by Bartolomé de las Casas. But we don’t know that he stopped there. And we cannot predict what might result when you take even a moment – and hopefully a lifetime – to take an anti-racist position.