In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14 year-old black youth, traveled from Chicago to visit his cousin in the town of Money, Mississippi. Upon arrival, he bragged about his white girlfriends back in Chicago. This was surprising to his cousin and the cousin’s friends because blacks in Mississippi during the 50s didn’t make eye contact with whites, let alone date them! Both actions were considered disrespectful. Later that day, Emmett, his cousin, and a small group of black males entered Bryant’s Store where, egged-on by the other males, fourteen-year-old Emmett flirted with a twenty-one-year-old white, married woman behind the counter. After purchasing candy, he either whistled at her or said something mildly flirtatious. (Reports vary.) The cousin and the others warned him he was in for trouble.
A few days later, at 2:00 A.M., Emmett was taken at gunpoint from his uncle’s home by the clerk’s husband and another man. After savagely beating him, they killed him with a single bullet to the head. Emmett’s bloated corpse was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. A cotton gin fan had been shoved over his head and tied with barbed wire. His face was partially crushed and beaten almost beyond recognition. The local Sheriff placed Emmett’s body in a sealed coffin and shipped it back to his mother in Chicago.
When Mamie Till got the body, she made a stunning announcement: There would be an open-casket funeral for her son Emmett. People protested and reminded her how much this would upset everyone. Mamie agreed, but countered, “I want the whole world to see what they did to my boy.”
The photo of Emmett’s mangled body in that open casket was published in Jet magazine and it helped launch the Civil Rights Movement in America. Three months later in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus when ordered to do so. She said the image of Emmett Till gave her the courage to stand her ground.
Klusendorf makes the application:
It’s time for pro-life Christians to open the casket on abortion.
We should do it lovingly but truthfully. We should do it in our churches during the primary worship services, comforting those who grieve with the gospel of forgiveness. We should do it in our Christian high schools and colleges, combining visuals with a persuasive defense of the pro-life view that’s translatable to non-Christians.
But open the casket we must.
Until we do, Americans will continue tolerating an injustice they never have to look at.
—Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 242-243.