Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Down Memory Lane: Recollecting the 1980s

As part of our unit on contemporary America in the 1980s, I thought I would be fun to see what some of my friends and colleagues remember about the 1980s. A few weeks ago I circulated a questionairre and here are some of the answers I got. Compare and contrast these answers with what you found on the 1980s scavenger hunt.

I've also included pictures of yours truly in the 1980s, with captions at the bottom of the blogpost.


Nathan Barber, writer, educator, school administrator

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?
Top Gun, Breakfast Club, Highlander, Back to the Future, Labyrinth, Karate Kid, Rocky IV

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?
U2, Hair Bands (especially Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Poison), .38 Special, Journey (all of which were played on my cassettes in my boom box)

What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?
Jeans rolled up tight at the bottom of the legs, Denim jackets, Swatch watches, Air Jordans, RayBan aviator sunglasses

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
Reagan (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall”), Iran/Contra Affair

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?
I don’t know that I can

Additional comments/thoughts/observations?
Because I graduated from high school in 1989, the decade of the 1980s was the decade of my coming of age. Innumerable moments and memories from that time in my life are inextricably tied to particular songs, movies and cars from the 80s. Nearly every popular 80s song and movie evoke memories that are as clear today as they were in 1989.

Troy Karcher, educator, coach

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?
Goonies, Platoon, Amadeus, Raiders of the lost Ark, Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi MY FAVORITE TRON!

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?
Van Halen, Bill Cosby…

What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?

The pant roll of the jeans, side pony tail, Polos collard flipped up….swatches I really liked Air Jordans where very popular

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
WHAT? Was I supposed to be paying attention??? Reagan helped shape the economics for the US

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?
RADICAL (awesome), WHERE’S THE BEEF?(commercial) GAG me with a spoon (gross), Bite me! hahaha

Additional comments/thoughts/observations?
Computers were starting a new more type writers!!! And computer games ATARI!!! PONG!


Fall of the Berlin Wall

SPACE SHUTTLE TAKE OFFS were the highlights and the disaster


Can’t forget about Saturday cartoons…SMURFS!


USA boycott of the 1980 Olympics

Felipe Hinojosa, educators, activist, scholar

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?
The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Top Gun, Electric Boogalo (break dancing flick), Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire (basically anything that was produced/directed by John Hughes).

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of
the 1980s?
Poison ("Every Rose has its Thorn"), Tears for Fears ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World"), The Cure (lots of their tunes), Def Leopard, and of course Michael Jackson. I was (am) a big Jackson fan

What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which
trends did you most enjoy?
I remember "Break Dancing," (and those pants with all the zippers), El Copete (hairstyle that girls wore where they would style their bangs like a sky scraper), tapered jeans (we would role them up at our ankles nice and tight), long hair...

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
I didn't follow politics all that much, but I will never forget the Iran-Contra affair (it was all over the news). I also remember the Central American refugees that our church provided shelter for. Since we lived near the church, I played lots of basketball with these folks. Of course, looking back I can't even imagine what they must have been feeling. I do remember that they were all very nice and some could play ball!

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?
One word? "hair" and "heavy metal" and "MTV"
Why? Just look at the music videos from that time period and the crazy hairstyles, the spandex pants, and the electric guitar. MTV revolutionized the way we think about music and rock bands. We followed their fashions and listened to what they had to say. It brought pop culture into our homes and perhaps for the first time we all could sing "Jump" (with Van Halen's David Lee Roth) and everyone (from central Kansas to South Texas) could relate in sometimes strange ways.

Additional comments/thoughts/observations?
Go Kansas Jayhawks! The Jayhwaks won the national title in 1988 under the leadership of forward Danny Manning. We lived in Kansas while my dad was on sabbatical and I became a Jayhawk fan. My friends in South Texas remember (to this day) how I wore a jayhawk t-shirt M-F for school.

Lauran Kerr, educator, activist, artist, scholar

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?
Haha I wasn't really allowed to watch TV so I missed out on the classics... In the '80s I watched Little Mermaid a lot. :)

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?
rs of the 1980sNew Kids on the Block (although I wasn't really supposed to listen to them!) and various Christian artists

< What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?
Side ponytails, big hair (even in Wyoming, where I grew up), bright colors, shoulder pads, big sweaters, stirrup pants

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
I was born the day Reagan was elected, and my parents were very excited his presidency. My tiny northern town was pretty conservative, so everyone seemed to like Reagan. I was mostly interested in world politics, even at an early age, particularly the situation in the Middle East.

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?
Material culture

Additional comments/thoughts/observations?
When 80's fashion sort of made a come-back in the past 5 years or so, I think it was an attempt to recapture the utter excess of the decade. There may be no correlation, but as the war has carried on and tragedies like Katrina have occurred, fashion has become more sleek. The emphasis has turned from excess to conservation in our material culture, and now being "green" is trendy. The 80's represented a boom of security, and now that we feel insecure as a society, we're grasping to remember a simpler ethic. Just a thought.

Janell Luce, educator, entrepreneur

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?
Foot Loose, breakfast club, st elmos fire….Anything with the brat pack. Do you need to know who the brat pack was? The early Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies were also huge hits and great movies.

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?
Journey and Lionel Richie/ Earth Wind and fire…later 80s was the Brit invasion with the MTV techno sound

What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?
PREPPIE with a double pop! The Madonna/flashdance look was big, but if you were preppie, it wasn’t you.

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
Reaganomics and everything Reaganesque

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why? MTV…..started a whole new trend and change in media..videos, cell phones, computers and all of the new gadgets started with the beginning of MTV

Additional comments/thoughts/observations? Huge time of transitioning from a way of life with technology. The beginning of the 80s was one way and the 10 years later it was totally different with computers, the beginning of cell phones, and other techno gadgets. It was also the end of some really good music styles that transitioned into a lot of flash but no substance due to the techno influence.

Toni LaZurs-White, educator

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s? Return of the Jedi/Star Wars Trilogy

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s? The Commodores, Earth, Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson

What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?
Ditto jeans, Levi 501’s and Afro Puffs

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
Reagan!!!! What else was there?

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?
A decade of change. The effects of the civil rights movement could be seen.

Ashlie Cook, educator

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?
Adventures in Babysitting, Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, Uncle Buck, Coming to America, Goonies

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?
Journey, Heart, Pat Benatar, Van Halen, Def Leopard

What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?
French rolled jeans, scrunchy socks, side ponytails, loud colors, big hair/bangs, too many accessories. My hair was naturally big so that was easy! I loved the layered perfectly scrunched socks because I couldn’t get in on the French rolled jeans—they didn’t make long jeans back then and I was always tall, so my pants were already high waters so with the roll I just looked dorky with Capri-length pants (which were NOT in at the time). J

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
I was a little young, but I remember big news of an actor becoming president

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?
“fabulously tacky”. Everything was to the extreme and over the top, but that’s what makes it endearing now.

Additional comments/thoughts/observations?
Individualism was embraced and encouraged so the weird and awkward were not noticed as much.

Tammy Holder, educator

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?

Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Top Gun, ET, Gremlins, Karate Kid, War Games, Breakfast Club, Beverly Hills Cop, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, all the Indiana Jones movies

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?

Huey Lewis & The News, Van Halen, Prince, Erasure, Depeche Mode, The Cars, Bon Jovi, Police, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran

What fashion trends do you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?
Parachute pants, Polo for men, Guess jeans, NEON EVERYTHING! Madonna wannabes with lace, rhinestones & Gummi bracelets, Jelly shoes, Swatch watches, Girbaud jeans, Units (remember those cotton outfits? Loved those!)

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
The Iran/Contra scandal of 1986, The Oliver North trial, a female making a bid for the White House— Geraldine Ferraro, The Cold War, Ronald Reagan highs, Tammy Faye & Jim Baker lows (not really politics, but who can forget the public mascara running!), Gary Hart and his “lover”, and what about “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!”

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?
Positive - After two decades of turmoil during the 60's and 70's, for the first time there were positive changes and calm in both domestic politics and international relations

Additional comments/thoughts/observations?
Black Monday in the stock market, Challenger Space Shuttle explosion - I still remember where I was. Electronics: Disc Cameras, Walkmen and boomboxes, and my parents got the first “car phone” that was literally installed into the car! Did anyone say VCRs vs. Betamax? The “New Coke” disaster, toy store riots for Cabbage Patch Kids, Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Olympics.. Video Games were just coming out, cable TV was making its way into most homes. MTV actually played videos and had no TV shows, just VJ's who introduced the next video! Phones were all still attached to the walls and most literally had to still be "dialed" and we looked everything up in the LIBRARY J

Geoff Brooks, educator, scientist, coach, political scientist

1. What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?

Only the classics – Top Gun (first movie I saw in a theater), and the Dark Crystal (I think from the 80s)
Didn’t see the following until the 90s - Good Morning Vietnam, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – I was a little kid in the 80s

2. What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?

Michael W Smith, DC Talk, Beach Boys
Secret likes – Bon Jovi, White Snake, U2, Billy Joel, Eagles, Poison, Gensis, Chicago, REO Speedwagon
Fan of the Power Ballads
Soundtracks to any Brat Pack movie

3. What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?

Sweatbands, Hightops, Girbeaud Jeans, Mozzimo, Long White Socks

4. What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?

I remember sitting with my Dad (Captain in the Army) watching the Iran Contra Hearings with Oliver North.
President Reagan’s Second Election and Inauguration,
Gorbachev’s trip to the New York
George HW Bush Inauguration
Tearing Down of the Berlin Wall (bridging 80s and 90s)
Tiananmen Square
Toppling of Stalin and Lenin Statues (Tanks in Moscow) and my Dad explaining to me what was going on

5. If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?

I could go with “Tear down this wall” or maybe “Just say No” or “I was under orders” or “You Give Love a Bad Name” maybe “Trickle down economics” or “Reaganomics”
but I think I’ll go with

“Bueller, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller….”


Phil Sinitiere, educator, author, scholar, baldguy

What were your favorite movies of the 1980s?
Top Gun is by far my favorite movie of the 1980s. I've watched it probably 50 times over the years, and one of the highlights of my childhood was receiving an F-14 Tomcat "Top Gun" model for my birthday. I flew it around the house for what now seems like months. I have vivid memories of E.T., the 1980s Star Wars movies, and of course Indiana Jones.

What were your favorite songs/bands/musicians/entertainers of the 1980s?
I loved music as a kid, and listened to bands such as Stryper, Poison, Mr. Mister, Run DMC, Bruce Springsteen, Public Enemy, Bon Jovi, and Metallica. And of course my recollections also consist of MTV music videos from these artists.

What fashion trends to you remember from the 1980s, and which trends did you most enjoy?
Rolled up pants, neon, Z Cavaricci and Girbaud jeans. I also mowed yards one summer and saved up for some Air Jordan tennis shoes--only to have them stolen when, like a dunce, I wore them to the swimming pool.

What are your memories of 1980s politics/politicians?
Of course Ronald Reagan comes to mind; I remember Gorbachev vividly, Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson, as well as Oliver North and the Iran Contra hearings. I also remember watching the Senate hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Although not politicians, I also remember the televangelist scandals of the 1980s--Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. AIDS also became a critical political/social issue of the 1980s, and I remember following the life and times of Ryan White.

If you could sum up the 1980s in one word, or perhaps a phrase, what would it be and why?

Here are captions for the pictures:

1. 1987. School picture from 4th grade at Berean Christian School, where I attended through 5th grade. It depicts my customary toothless smile/smirk, and yes, that is a lot of hair I have.

2. 1984. Little league Braves, after an illustrious t-ball career. I think I remember sitting on the bench part of that year, but got more playing time after my rookie season.

3. 1981. I was the waterboy for the youth football league team my dad coached. That's really about as far as my football career went.

4. 1984. Here I am, on a cold night in front of the White House during the Cold War. If you look closely, you can see Ronald Reagan on the porch of the White House. My dad took me to Washington, D.C. for my 7th birthday. The highlight of the trip, as I remember it, was visiting the Air & Space Museum--I loved airplanes.

5. 1984. And speaking of the Cold War, here I am with my F-14 Tomcat toy airplane. It took many flights around the house, and in the front yard.
6. 1983. Field day in kindergarten, with a female companion who I believe was my girlfriend at the time. It didn't work out. Also, I've traded in those shorts for more fashionable jogging shorts, and ankle socks instead of striped tube socks. For Eaglefest next year, however, I may have to pay tribute to my past by dressing 1980s.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Back to the Future:" 1980s Scavenger Hunt

1. The 1980s marked a fascinating turning point in American history, and certainly a decade filled with monumental changes. Scan Wikipedia's page on the 1980s, and list the 3 most important social changes, in your opinion, that shaped the 1980s. Second, you will want to compare 1980s technology with what technology you engage with today. Third, record the vital statistics ("FACTS") found at the top of this page. For further reference, here's a helpful timeline.

2. Reading the same Wikipedia entry on the 1980s, identify and briefly discuss what was going on in the world outside of the United States in the 1980s.

3. Related to question #2, Africa is missing from the listed countries. Read the first 3 pages of this speech, and discuss why the author thinks Africa is a key continent to pay attention to in the future.

4. Ronald Reagan was perhaps the key political figure of the 1980s, although Mikhail Gorbachev-at least by the end of the decade-had an equally large presence on the world stage. Read the info by following this link, and briefly discuss Reagan's career before he was elected President.

5. Read here to discover more about Gorbachev. Define perestroika and glasnost.

6. Analyze these maps, and explain how and why they reflect a world in a "cold war."

7. Popular Culture: some played with Cabbage Patch Kids, while others preferred Garbage Pail Kids. Discuss their origins.

8. Trends and Devices: Check out this page, and identify what made the DeLorean, the Walkman, and cell phones popular. Check out the cell phone Dr. Martin Cooper is holding!

9. Fashion Trends. What fashion trends in the 1980s were popular and how were they made popular?

10. Saturday morning specials. Follow this link to see a list of the most popular cartoons of the 1980s. Which ones have you seen and which ones are your favorites? Why?

11. TV shows. Check out a list of 1980s television shows. Why would something like The Cosby Show, or The Wonder Years, or Alf be important in the 1980s (e.g., subject matter, setting, actors, actresses, etc.)?

12. Fads--fleeting or flourishing? Scan this list of 1980s fads, and discuss at least 2. Are any of these fads around today? If so, why?

13. See some of the most important Sports Illustrated issues of the 1980s. What sports are represented, what sports are not? Where are these athletes now? Anybody know?

14. Popular names in the 1980s. Find out how popular your name was in the 1980s--and then use the drop down menu to see how popular your name was in the decade you were born. Record the results.

15. You were born in the 1980s if......what is the funniest phrase to you? Why?

16. Best of Times/Worst of Times--have you seen any of the movies on these lists--the best and the worst of the 1980s? Do you agree or disagree with the results?

17. See the info on 1980s films here. Why, in your opinion, were some movies popular, while others were not (in terms of subject matter, plot, etc.)? What accounts for success or failure at the box office in the 1980s?

18. Like to read? Here's a list of best selling books of the 1980s. Have you read any of these books? Which ones, and what did you think? In terms of subject matter, why were certain books so popular in the 1980s?

19. More TV in the 1980s. How did television change in the 1980s, and what was popular at the time? Why?

20. Pick a primary source from the 1980s. Read and discuss.

21. Automobile history of the 1980s.

22. Who's who, and what's what in the 1980s--find out (and record) where people lived in the 1980s, what occupations some had, what youth life was like in the 1980s, and leisure time during that decade.

23. Out of this world: Read and discuss why E.T. was so popular in the 1980s.

24. AIDS. The spread of AIDS, AIDS treatment, and AIDS activism marked the 1980s in countless ways. The story of Ryan White was instrumental in AIDS education, research, and funding. In addition, here's a story and some statistics.

25. What would you buy? Check out this collection of commercials from the 1980s. How did companies and corporations sell their products? How have television advertisements (or advertising in general) changed since the 1980s? Give examples.

26. Ask your parents what they remember about the 1980s and record the results. How do their recollections compare with what we've studied in class, and what you've found on the scavenger hunt?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Of Snapshots and Survival: Picturing Vietnam

As a reminder, your homework tonight is to examine the famous Nick Ut photograph from your Vietnam War handout (here's the photo), and answer the following questions (adapted from Katherine J. Lualdi, Sources of The Making of the West, Vol. 2, Since 1500, 3rd ed., pp. 271-2).

Here are the questions to answer:

1. Why do you think this image had such a powerful impact on the public at the time?

2. What does the image of the young girl in the center of the photograph, with her clothes having been burned off and her skin on fire, reveal about the technology of war and its human costs?

3. How might the photograph's effect on U.S. public opinion have been different if the perpetrators of the napalm attack been the North Vietnamese army rather than the South Vietnamese and the Americans?

4. What do you think the political impact of this photograph was in North Vietnam after its publication?

5. What images from U.S. conflicts since the Vietnam strike you as significant and important, and why?

There's more to the story of the picture. The photograph won a Pulitzer Prize, and the girl in the middle of the photo, Kim Phuc, survived. Read about this series of events here, and discuss in the comments section how a photograph might be used as a primary source.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Time for Till, Again

In a previous post, I introduced you to historian, writer, and educator, Devery Anderson, one of the nation's leding experts on the Emmett Till murder. Devery took the time to read your questions, and has graciously taken considerable time to respond to your questions. Here is the letter he sent. Read and respond with thoughts, comments, and more questions.

Thanks again, Devery, for taking the time to converse with us.


Thank you all for your questions, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you. Thanks also for your interest in the Emmett Till case.

Several of your questions asked about any regrets that J. W. Milam, Roy Bryant, or Carolyn Bryant may have had about Emmett’s murder. Neither of the men involved ever expressed any public remorse, nor have their family members. Roy Bryant took a friend of his on a “tour” of the sites involved in the murder in 1985, and his friend secretly recorded him, and Bryant seemed to brag about the whole thing, indicating that there were others involved, but that he wasn’t going to name them. Carolyn Bryant refuses to talk about the case (I wrote her and went by her house, and she won’t respond to me). The only time she is known to have talked in the last 52 years was to the FBI in 2004. If she has any regrets, she isn’t telling anyone. I don’t really know why she won’t allow anyone to talk to her. She actually didn’t tell her husband about the incident with Emmett Till—he heard about it from someone else-- then asked her about it. I believe, based on my research, that she bent the truth about what happened when she told the story in court. I don’t think she told that story to her husband.

I heard from one of her cousins that Mamie Till-Mobley and some of Moses Wright’s family had a falling out for a time, and that she blamed them for allowing Emmett to be killed. I have not been able to confirm if that is true.

The sheriff of Leflore County [H.C. Strider], where Roy Bryant lived, was said to have told Emmett’s grandmother that Bryant was a mean, cruel man, and that he had been implicated in the death of another African American the year before. I have not been able to find anything to confirm that this actually happened.

I can only assume that Emmett’s mother regretted sending him to Mississippi, although I never knew her to dwell on that, or what happened to him once he got there. She came to believe that her son died for a reason, and I think she came to dwell on that aspect of it.

I do not know if Mrs. Bryant gets threatening phone calls. She has changed her number since the last time I tried calling. She used to be listed in the phone book under her current name, Carolyn Donham, but that was before most people knew what her current name is. Since her current name and location has become more public, I believe she has stopped listing her number.

The most unique thing that I have discovered is the person who went into the store and made Emmett come out when he was talking to Carolyn Bryant. He hasn’t talked to anyone about this, at least publicly, since 1955. His name faded away from history right away. I know who he is, I am just trying to get him to talk.

I believe Mrs. Bryant did feel that justice had been done, because she wanted her husband freed, and back then, people felt that defending the honor of southern womanhood justified a crime even as brutal as murder. That was what Milam and Bryant thought they were doing.

Mrs. Bryant never expressed any feelings about the condition of Emmett’s body, or to the brutality of the murder. At the time, she and Roy had two small boys, less than four years old. They later had another son and a daughter. No one knows how she eventually came to explain the murder to them.

My use of the term “angel” in the poem was just my attempt to be artistic I guess. I believe that people have been profoundly moved by his death, but I have never seen it as something that was meant to be, nor that it had a fore-ordained purpose (which Emmett’s mother DID believe). Aside from the very human tragedy of the case that affects us all, I am trying to view it as a historian.

I have asked Emmett Till’s cousins several questions about what Emmett was like as a child, and what they witnessed at the time of the whistle in the store, and the kidnapping three days later. I have asked lots of details that I have been able to verify as either accurate or inaccurate. I feel I have the best take on what happened, and have the most detail of anyone. I wish I would have asked his mother several more questions about Emmett as a child.

After Emmett’s father died, his mother remarried twice more when Emmett was a child, and one more time after his death. Emmett and his two step fathers were close but because they, and his mother divorced, these men weren’t in his life very long. Mamie does seem calm and in control in the weeks after the trial, but she has always attributed that to the strength she was able to muster up early on. She commented once that people thought she was cold or uncaring because of that, but when you see the films of her at the funeral, she is clearly very emotional.

Mamie’s belief that Emmett did not whistle intentionally is clearly an error. Emmett did whistle at Carolyn Bryant, and it was definitely NOT misinterpreted due to his speech impediment. I spend a lot of time on this in my book (which I am still writing). His cousins who were with him are very clear about that, and they told me that Emmett talked to them afterwards about it, and plead for them not to tell his uncle Moses Wright what had happened. He knew he had done something wrong. I also believe he probably said something to Carolyn Bryant in the store that she took offense at, but not the things she claimed he said. I don’t think he meant any harm by it.

The jury took 67 minutes to make the verdict. According to Steve Whitaker, who interviewed the jury members seven years later, most of them fully believed that Milam and Bryant were guilty, even though they voted “not guilty.” Harry Dogan, the incoming sheriff of Tallahatchie County, asked them to take a little time before announcing their verdict in order to “make it look good.”

Mamie was very open about the murder, in that she was always willing to talk about it. I probably talked to her on the phone 50 times before she died, and she could always talk about every aspect of it easily.

The people I have interviewed, besides Mamie Till-Mobley, are Wheeler Parker, who took the train with Emmett to Mississippi, Simeon Wright, who was in the bed with Emmett when he was kidnapped (both of these men were with Emmett at the store also, when he whistled at Carolyn Bryant). I interviewed Willie Reed, the surprise witness for the prosecution, who heard Emmett being beaten and killed in the barn. I also interviewed two reporters who covered the trial, and one woman who sat through the trial.

As far as Emmett’s own religious beliefs, he did attend church each week, and according to his mother, he became a born-again Christian after he became a teenager. His cousin, Wheeler Parker, who is a minister himself, says he doesn’t remember a religious side to Emmett necessarily, and said that back then, kids absolutely HAD to go to church, EVERY Sunday.

The Crisis did not devote much to the case – there were only a few issues during the trial that devoted any attention to it –I have them. As far as my book goes, I am still writing it and I expect it to be a year before I turn the full manuscript in.

The Till case, as it relates to the Civil Rights Movement, is seen as inspiring people to act, and the first action that followed it was the Montgomery Bus Boycot a few months later. This is something that historians have only begun to fully understand in the last twenty years. In the years just following the Till case, it was overshadowed by other events, and the people who were the key players in the case fell into obscurity. It is only in retrospect now that people see it as a major event that inspired protests and actions in the Movement.

There had been thousands of lynchings in the south prior to the Till murder, but his is the most famous because he was not from the South, was a child, and his mother insisted on showing the world the brutality of the crime by having an open-casket funeral. Lynchings had become more rare in the years preceeding Emmett’s death. More followed as KKK members and others in the South tried to fight integration and voter registration for blacks.

The only action to try to prosecute Milam and Bryant after the murder trial was to indict them on kidnapping charges a month and a half later, but the grand jury failed to indict. The FBI investigation that occurred between 2004-2006 was an attempt to prosecute others who are still living, and who may have been involved. In February 2007, the grand jury heard evidence linking Carolyn Bryant to the kidnapping but failed to indict her.

Moses Wright let the men take Emmett only because they threatened his life and had a gun. Had he attempted to stop them, they likely would have killed everyone in the house – at least Moses and his wife. Plus, he never imagined they would kill him. He thought they were going to take him away, whip him, then bring him home.

Emmett’s mother and Carolyn Bryant never spoke, and she never had any direct contact with anyone from Milam nor Bryant’s family. Mamie told me once she would be willing to talk with her, mother to mother. She felt no anger toward her.

I have completed most of my research for my book, but still go to Mississippi two or three times a year to try to find out more information. There are still a few people I want to interview. I hope to do it soon.

Mamie didn’t necessarily use her son’s death as evidence of white supremacist attitudes but just the events surrounding Emmett’s death, and the fact that the men got away with murder, and the jury was willing to allow that without any conscience, is the evidence that it really hard to escape. Mamie only had to be aware of the facts surrounding the kidnap, murder, and attitude of the sheriff and jury to see it for what it was.

I think the men who killed Emmett were able to become as angry as they did because they were raised to see certain actions as big, big taboos in the South. That taboo was any amount of social interaction between whites and blacks. Blacks were seen as so inferior, in fact, that there had been a long tradition of killing -- and getting away with it in the South. In Mississippi alone there were over 500 documented lynchings between 1888-1955. In the entire South, there were several thousand.

Mamie did tell Emmett how to behave in the South, and did this very forcefully before he left.

Although Emmett’s killers knew he was a boy, they later got angry when the reporter who interviewed them and paid them for their confession, phrased their crime as the “murder of a child.” I think, however, because they never showed any remorse, that to them, he was just another “nigger.” His age made no difference.

Carolyn Bryant is still alive, is 74 years old, and lives in Greenville, Mississippi. She and Roy Bryant divorced in 1979 and she has since remarried three times. Her name now is Carolyn Donham.

I don’t know Carolyn Bryant’s current attitude toward blacks, or civil rights. She will not talk to anyone about this case, and no one from her family will talk about her or the case publicly.

When the FBI reopened the case, they were trying to find others who may have been involved, and to try to get more facts about the murder, since it had never been investigated all that well to begin with. They were not going after Milam and Bryant, who were both dead anyway, so there was no violation of the double jeopardy law.

I hope this answers everything. Feel free to write me further at, or post more questions on the blog.

Thanks again for this opportunity!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vietnam War

One of my former profs at UH, Steven Mintz, has created a wonderful resource for teachers and students, Digital History.

Follow this link to the Vietnam War teaching module, and review the chapter on maps. Check back in the next day or two for additional links, and an assignment.

In the meantime, some of you asked about chemical warfare during the Vietnam War, referred to by some as an example of "ecocide." Here's a website about agent orange and its effects, and several other sites with pictures of the effects of chemical warfare.

One. Two. Three. Four.

[Photo credit here.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

JFK Assassination

To supplement our brief discussion of JFK and the 1960s, I want to draw your attention to several notable websites that deal with the assassination. There is a stock industry of books related to the assassination, as well as tons of movies and documentaries.

John McAdams has one of the most extensive sites on the event, and follow this link to find what is available from the National Archives.

Here's another site with multiple resources and another with various angles of analysis. Check out some audio, video, and visual resources surrounding the assassination, as well as another intersting site here.

Here are some of the autopsy photos I mentioned in class, and here's a whole collection of websites with material to keep you busy reading over the summer.

There are of course many YouTube video clips available on the subject, and here's the brief clip we watched in class.

So, what do you think?

[Photo credits here and here.]

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Of Cathedrals, Churches, and the Civil Rights Movement

At the Washington National Cathedral recently, scholars and preachers gathered to remember MLK, the Christian prophetic preaching tradition, and the continuing quest for racial and economic justice.

John Lewis spoke, whose statement from the March on Washington we read in class, as well as Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Taylor Branch, featured in the King documentary we watched, among others.

Listen here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Malcolm X

Today's discussion centered on Malcolm X, his significance in the Civil Rights Movement, and the how his points of view changed over time. You may also want to listen to a Malcolm X address from December 1964--the same month King delivered his Nobel Prize speech--and read more about Spike Lee's 1992 movie Malcolm X.

Although we didn't discuss it in class, an important book on the subject is theologian James Cone's Martin & Malcolm: A Dream or a Nightmare (1992). Read an interview with Cone in which he discusses the book.

Equally important is Manning Marable's forthcoming biography of Malcolm X. Marable is involved in the Malcolm X Project at Columbia, and has talked about this work in several places. Check it out here and here.

Other primary materials include some of the FBI files on Malcolm X. Read Ossie Davis's eulogy for Malcolm X here and watch a video here.

[Photo credit here.]

Monday, April 7, 2008

Till(ing) History

Since Emmett Till is such an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement, I think that it is important we continue the discussion from last week.

Meet Devery Anderson--author, writer, historian, and educator who currently lives in Utah. He has a website devoted to Till's life and significance, and is working on a book about the subject.

From his website, he recounts what spurred his interest in the life of Till: "I first became acquainted with Emmett Till in the fall of 1994, as a student at the University of Utah, after watching the first segment of the PBS documentary series on the Civil Rights Movement, Eyes on the Prize. Emmett’s murder and the subsequent acquittal of his killers left me sad, angry, and full of questions. What happened to the killers after their acquittal? What happened to Emmett’s mother? Was she alive, or had she died somewhere in obscurity? Why was I not already familiar with this case?"

Well, Devery is intimately familiar with the case, and has graciously agreed to respond to questions, comments, and thoughts about the Till case. So take what we've discussed in class, and ask any questions about the Till case, Emmett's late mother, or other relevant historical questions. Peruse Devery's excellent website; there's tons of wonderful material worthy of discussion.

Post your questions and thoughts in the comments section.

In the meantime, here's a poem Devery wrote about Till:

Destined for obscurity
Until you took a south-bound train.
But soon we saw your battered face,
And we felt your mother’s pain.

Because bad men, with their hearts of stone,
Who delight in dirty deeds,
Unknowingly fulfilled the word
That it’s a little child that leads.

And “black” meant “brave” those summer days,
Enduring threats and fear.
But the Tallahatchie’s deeper now
Because it holds our tears.

Tried, acquitted, they walked the streets
They bragged, then lived in shame.
Living life disowned, alone,
In prisons without names.

Making sense of senseless acts
Decades later, now we see.
Despite the walls now broken down,
We’re just beginning to be free

An only child, a mother’s son,
You moved a sleeping land.
And as one of heaven’s angels,
You’ve moved us once again.

Friday, April 4, 2008

New Martin Luther King Documentary, Sunday @ 7 p.m.

Students, a new MLK documentary will premiere on Sunday evening at 7. If you get a chance to watch any of it, take an opportunity to do so and leave your comments.

The documentary's website is here. And check out this musical meditation on Martin.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Emmett Till

Part of our Civil Rights Movement unit covers the life, times, and significance of Emmett Till. In years past Till's story has impacted students in deep and profound ways since he was only 14 when brutally murdered in August 1955.

Keith Beauchamp's stunning documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Till is a great resource to learn about the topic, and therefore worthy to see and discuss. (Read about another important documentary here.)

Here's a poem about Till, a great web resource and labor of love devoted to Till, and here Cornel West weighs in. An author has created a Till blog, and here's an FBI report on Till. Finally, here's a story on Till and the use of images in history.

With what we've discussed in class about the Civil Rights Movement, and in light of viewing the Till documentary, simply leave your thougths and reflections about Till in the comments section. Why do you think Till is an important figure to study? In your opinin, what is his significance to the Civil Rights Movement?