Tamar Lanier February 3 – “A Failed Essay on Privilege”

“The Murder of Emmett Till”   (PBS Feb 2, 2021)  Last night I stayed up late to watch the PBS documentary account of the torture and murder of the now-infamous young black boy, Emmett Till and his white killers in Mississippi.   I had not watched Emmett Till for some years;  PBS’s account will stay with me for a long time; today’s post will stay too — Emmett and his fiercely brave mother; she insisted on her son’s mutilated body be carried — in a deliberately open coffin by thousands of mourners.  Those thousands not only carried Emmett’s bod;   they carried his story across the nation.   PBS tells us that Mrs. Rosa Parks soon after began and led the Montgomery Bus Boycott that broke open the deep south’s segregated public bus system and began to open Alabama to revolutionary change.  Mrs. Rosa Parks discovered that no one would hire her — white punishment.   Soon after, however, Mrs. Parks was invited to move to Detroit by John Conyers who connected her to the city’s strong African American community.  She lived in Detroit until, at her death, the whole city in their many thousands, and the nation, mourned her passing.

Have a blest week,


john sj

p.s.  No wonder I am very tired this morning; best to read the post out loud with pauses.


Today’s Post – February 3, 2021

David Grubin to john jstsj

“I’ve been telling the story of Tamara Lanier’s lawsuit against Harvard  for control of an 1850 daguerreotype of her great-great-great grandfather, an enslaved man named Renty. The daguerreotype was commissioned by a celebrated Harvard professor – Louis Agassiz – to prove that Africans are a biologically inferior species. It’s in Harvard’s Peabody Museum now, and Lanier, appalled by its stated purpose, thinks of it as a family photo that she wants back so she can donate it to the African-American Museum in Washington.

We call the film Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard.

The film is in essence the story of an African-American woman’s struggle to reclaim her heritage, and dives into the explosive issues roiling all of us right now: white supremacy, the legacy of slavery, and reparations.  Because it’s a developing story – I’ve been following it for 18 months – I’ve had to stop until I can film again on the other side of the pandemic, whenever that may be. (I’ve edited the first 75 minutes of the film, and waiting now to see how it will end).

This has made me think of a poem that appeared recently in the New Yorker. Although it is right for this moment, I don’t know if you’ll feel it’s right for your blog. Nevertheless, you might be as moved as I was by the way in which this Hispanic poet who went to Yale articulates the contradictions that she has learned to embrace without reaching for any easy conclusions. It’s called “‘A Failed Essay on Privilege.’”

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