***Warning: graphic topics of violence and racism***
On July 25, 2019 ProPublica unveiled an Instagram photo posted of three young white men in front of Emmett Till’s sign commemorating his brutal death and the ignition of the Civil Rights Movement. The students were suspended on Wednesday from their fraternity, Kappa Alpha, a historically racist institution, amidst the outcry from the ProPublica news article. University of Mississippi’s spokesman Rod Guajardo stated that the student’s photo is “offensive and hurtful” but it did “not violate the school’s code of conduct.”
Someone reported the disturbing image to Ole Miss Office of Student Conduct, and the complaint states, “The photo is on Instagram with hundreds of ‘likes,’ and no one said a thing […] I cannot tell Ole Miss what to do, I just thought it should be brought to your attention.” Their actions reporting the Instagram photo, with 274 likes, is the reason the university and the public were made aware of the issue. The photo was posted by Ben LeClere on his private Instagram account in March 2018 for John Lowe’s birthday with the caption “one of Memphis’s finest and the worst influence I’ve ever met.”
This picture eerily echoes the distributing history of Emmett Till who was shot in the head by a band of white supremacist men. Emboldened by Trump’s open racism, events such as these have surfaced in the media, such as the well-known Charlottesville riot in 2017, one of the most visible displays of hatred from the new so-called “alt-right” movement. The President responded to the violence by condemning hatred “on many sides,” and arguing that he was not responsible for the rise in racist hate groups. Richard Spencer, notorious white supremacist, chanted “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory” to a cheering crowd preforming Nazi Salutes after Trump’s taking of power in 2016.
Since the sign’s commencement in 2007, it has been the target of white supremacist hate crimes ranging from bullet holes, theft, KKK vandalism, and throwing the sign into the river Emmett Till’s body was discovered in. The Emmett Till Memorial Commission has ordered a bullet proof sign to replace the current sign. They proclaimed “We believe it is important to keep a sign at this historic site, but we don’t want to hide the legacy of racism by constantly replacing broken signs […] The commission hopes this sign will endure, and that it will continue to spark conversations about Till, history, and racial justice.”