Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Wake-Up Call: Emmett Till, RIP

The original casket of Emmett Till was among the missing items uncovered in the Alsip, Illinois, cemetery scandal. After the body of the fourteen-year-old civil rights martyr was exhumed in 2005 for an investigation into Till's lynching back in 1955, when the Chicago boy dared to talk to a white woman on a trip to the South, it was reburied in a new casket, and the original designated for inclusion in a future memorial.

"His mother had the gut and grit to say that 'I want America to see what they did to my baby's body,'" the Reverend Jesse said of Till, after the Burr Oak news broke. "More than 100,000 saw his body lying at the church. It is said that those who saw his body were never the same again."

Till hasn't rested easy in Colorado, either.

Till went missing here in Denver a decade ago, when sculptor Ed Dwight was given a million-dollar contract to create a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. that placed the civil rights leader on top of a three-layer pedestal bearing bronze representations of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks. Unveiled in City Park in 2003, that piece replaced "King and Companion," a perfectly good -- if artistically vilified -- statue of MLK and Till that had stood in City Park for three decades.

After first offering the spare statue -- now described as "a beautiful sculpture that has graced the city for so many years" -- to local schools, Denver finally donated "King and Companion" to the Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday Commission and Cultural Center in Pueblo, where it was dedicated in 2002.

And still stands.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun