Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Textual Studies

Committee Chair

Verner D Mitchell

Committee Member

Reginald Martin

Committee Member

Ladrica C Menson-Furr

Committee Member

Francisco Vivar


Emmett Till was lynched in 1955 in Money, Mississippi, for whistling at a white woman. He was 14-years-old. The racially-motivated killing was so brutal that the body was just a grotesque, monstrous glob, unrecognizable to most of his kin. Media published the photo, which was a clarion call to the freedom fighters. Since then, artists have celebrated his young life. Using many genres and media, they have talked about his sexuality, his masculinity, and the impact of his death on our country, making Till one of the most written about historical figures in Black art. Much of the literature addresses Emmett's emerging masculinity and mourns his and all Black masculinity cut short. Others claim his murder as the spark that began the Civil Rights Movement. His death required a collective response. This dissertation analyzes the different forms of expression and makes connections that invite further dialogue. Gwendolyn Brooks' poem dissects the white fairy tale, in which Black males become undeserving victims. Many of Nikki Giovanni's poems include Emmett and Mamie Till as symbols of racism. Audre Lorde devotes one long narrative poem to the effects of his death and the death photo. Bebe Moore Campbell's novel relates the impact of Till's death in the Black and white communities; whereas, Lewis Nordan's focus is the white community. Still, other artists look at the social dialectic of race and sex. This social taboo is so pervasive that it has survived well into the 21st century dialogues about men and women and crime and punishment. James Baldwin, in the 20th century, and Scott Poulson-Bryant, in the 21st century, discuss Black masculinity and the racist society. No matter the topic, the literary artists cannot forget a boy who thought that he had the right to express his appreciation for the opposite sex. For these artists, Emmett Till functions as a trope for truncated Black masculine sexual identity and the face of racism, which ignited a resistance movement.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.