Work Remains to be Done

The Wikipedia page for Willie Jerome Manning was vandalized earlier this year: it was edited “in a malicious manner that [was] intentionally disruptive.” The page was reverted to an earlier version which omitted Willie’s exoneration for the Jimmerson-Jordan murders; and it downplayed the controversy surrounding Mississippi’s refusal to allow DNA testing for the Steckler-Miller case. Fortunately Wikipedia rules prevailed: the page was restored.

Not long afterwards it was reported that vandalism had occurred to a sign erected to memorialize Emmett Till, an African American boy who was brutally murdered in the Mississippi Delta after a white woman accused him of insulting her, either verbally or physically (her accounts varied). The sign had been defaced by bullets. It was the fourth sign in that position to suffer a similar fate. The sign will probably be replaced, though some say the bullets should remain to demonstrate that “work remains to be done.”

 Emmett’s murder has, with good reason, been described as “among the starkest and most searing examples of racial violence in the South”. Willie’s death sentence for “a racially charged case in the Deep South”  also exemplifies such racial violence: it very nearly led to “yet another Mississippi lynching”, as the state pursued his execution without prior DNA testing.

Vann R. Newkirk II summarizes Mississippi’s shockingly brutal past, which has morphed into taunts, economic insecurity and poor criminal-justice outcomes for those who are black:
“[Mississippi] was built on ethnic cleansing, land theft, and terror; and it was maintained even after slavery through terrorism. It’s because of the blackness of the region that the version of Jim Crow implemented there was the zenith—or the nadir—of the form, a roiling campaign of theft and intimidation that over the course of a century watered the fertile soil of the Delta with somewhere near 600 lynchings.”

Work remains to be done, indeed.

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