Hall of Fame
Anonymous Male Student
LeFlore County High School, Itta Bena, MS, 1955 c.1939 – ?
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.