A book by Darryl Mace, Ph.D., dissects the media’s attitude toward race surrounding the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi and the all-white jury that acquitted the two white men who stood accused.
On Thursday, Aug. 28, on NewsWorks Tonight on WHYY 90.9 FM, Dave Heller interviewed Mace about his book to mark the 59th anniversary of Emmett Till’s lynching.
“Newspapers were at the height of their power in 1955, shaping the way people remembered Emmett Till and how that remembrance shaped their lives,” explained Darryl Mace, Ph.D., about why he wrote a book on regional media responses to the Emmett Till slaying.
Mace is associate professor and chair of history and political science at Cabrini College.
“The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement were driven by Emmett Till’s death. Rosa Parks was imagining Emmett’s face when she famously refused to get up from her bus seat,” Mace said.
In early July, The University Press of Kentucky released Mace’s book, “In Remembrance of Emmett Till: Regional Stories and Media Responses to the Black Freedom Struggle,” an accessible, and gripping account of media, race, and “the subjective narratives” surrounding the 1955 murder of 14‑year‑old Till in Mississippi and the all-white jury that acquitted the two white men who stood accused.
“I first approached this as an American north/south media divide, but my research showed reporting broke down into five regions,” Mace said about the years of research that took him from the Library of Congress to the backcountry of Mississippi, and included two years solely reading microfilm of small‑town newspapers.
“I also found that I needed to know the inner workings of the journalists reporting the case to make sure my conclusions were accurate. That meant digging up correspondence between the reporters, editors, and publishers.”
The original manuscript was a 572‑page academic tome structured by geographic regions. After eight months of overhauling and rewriting, the finished product is an accessible 240‑page chronological tale.
“One of my goals was readability,” Mace said, “because it is important to teach Till’s story. It’s still relevant.”
Case in point: the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. “With all the media commentary around Trayvon,” Mace said, “people are remembering Emmett Till and are interested in how the media handled the Till case. While I disagree with many of the assertions of correlation between the two, the Martin case is nonetheless reviving interest in Till.”
–Christopher Grosso, for
On Mace’s Book: Race and Gender in the 1950s
Darryl Mace’s book “In Remembrance of Emmett Till: Regional Stories and Media Responses to the Black Freedom Struggle” details and interrogates the ways in which reporters’, editors’, and publishers’ attitudes about race in the 1950s affected their coverage of Emmett Till’s murder and his mother’s efforts to bring his killers to justice.
Gender attitudes were equally important to the construction of the narrative. On this subject, Mace shows how both the black and white press’ coverage of Mamie Till‑Mobley (Till’s mother) reflected conventional views of womanhood such as the expectations that women would demonstrate “respectable” behavior in public and that mothers would go to any lengths to protect and defend their children.
At the same time, however, the black and white press differed in how they interpreted Till‑Mobley’s decision to use her son’s murder as a case study of the value of black life in America.
Lucid and comprehensive, Mace’s book is a required text for anyone who desires a better understanding of America’s racial and gender attitudes in the early years of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
–Joseph R. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, History and Political Science, and Biographer of civil rights activist Gloria Richardson, and author of the forthcoming “The Struggle is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation.”
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