Black History, Children, History, Nonfiction, Poetry, Young Adult

A Wreath for Emmett Till, by Marilyn Nelson


This country we love has a Janus face: one mouth speaks with a forked tongue, the other reads the Constitution.

Let us first define what a Janus face is: cb922372af7ff4692a4ccfe77b79d2bbAmong other things, Janus was the Roman god of duality. And while America represents the Land of the Free for some, it is still a land of hypocrisy, fear, and double standards for many. The last couple of weeks have been a painful, shameful reminder of this.

I happened upon the poetic prose of Marilyn Nelson completely by accident this morning on my local digital library site. I was quickly intrigued by her beautifully expressed story of Emmett Till. For those unaware, Emmett Till was a 14 year old black boy who was lynched and murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. His killers were never brought to justice. His mother, Mamie, who lost her husband 10 years before in a controversial hanging, courageously displayed her young son’s mutilated body in an open casket at his funeral. If the law would not prosecute those responsible, she would do it in her own way.

In this sonnet, A Wreath for Emmett Till, award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson speaks for the young man who could not speak for himself and for his brave mother, thrust into the spotlight after his killing. Everything is said with sorrow, with love, and with heart-felt apology. I can hardly do it justice:

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Nelson’s style lends a power that makes mere storytelling inadequate. While probably targeted for young readers, teens and adults will also appreciate this quiet treasure. And, although a quick read, the message lingers long after that we, as humans, still have a long way to go.

9.5 Stars


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