“Emmett Till in Different States” by Phililp C. Kolin is a hard read – not due to Kolin’s literary craftsmanship, but due to the relevancy of a young Black child being murdered still today is, at times, hard to bear. Kolin’s prose reminds us that 2016 is sometimes indistinguishable from 1945, when Louis Till was murdered in France for “willful misconduct”, or 1955 when Emmett Till was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. When Black people are being murdered at routine traffic stops or for walking around a neighborhood that they live in, we realize many things at once. During this past year, one of my realizations was that the work we do is important. Documenting our stories is imperative and it is because of my epiphany, I understood and truly appreciated Kolin’s book of poetry on Emmitt Till’s life.
“Emmett Till in Different States” features poems from a range of perspectives: Till, his uncle, Mahalia Jackson, and even the all-white male jury that found Till’s two murderers not guilty. In “The Jury”, Kolin takes on the role of one of the jurors:
Why was there a trial
in the first place? There was no body
or at least a body that knew
who it was or where it had been.
What was fished up
from the Tallahatchie
could have been left over
from an old lynching picnic.
Not all of Kolin’s artistry consists of imagined perspectives. The beginning of the book provides a very real timeline of significant events from Till’s birth to 2016, when a new documentary about Till’s life was announced. Kolin also provides us with a short recap of Till’s trial. This book serves as a reminder that no matter how far we think we’ve come, some things still haven’t changed. This book should be read for the historical information and the artistic interpretations it lends.