No Pictures Allowed: short story

No Pictures Allowed

(Excerpted)

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Our group had been told to start on the bottom level which was dedicated to the beginning of the Black experience in America. An energetic young woman, an attorney, who obviously loved an took seriously her job, was our tour guide. She brought us from the 16 th century and on through slavery espousing her knowledge of the exhibitions and our history. After the tour I went on to other exhibits on that floor. Visitors were taking pictures and videotaping all along this tour soaking up the experience, at times looking solemly and even at times, wiping away a tear drop or two. And then we came to an exhibit that clearly stated, NO PICTURES ALLOWED.

The exhibit was of Emmit Till. I stopped at the edge of the exhibit which veered into a separate partition. I had read the stories and a book about the fourteen-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was visiting his mother’s family in Money, Mississippi. There were reports of disrespect to a white woman and this young boy, this manchild was lynched and beaten beyond recognition. There is an infamous photograph of thousands of people viewing Till’s body, raw and in the state he was found because his mother wanted the world to see the cruelty that had been done to her child.

I hesitated at the door. I put one foot forward and stopped when I saw a casket. I knew then that this was a replica of Till’s original body and casket. But I could not go another step forward. I stepped back. You need to see this, mind told me. But then, the next moment my spirit said, but why do you need to see it? Why do you want to view such a horrific sight? I made a decision that I was going to skip this exhibition. I just could not do it. I slowly continued to the next exhibit. I saw an elderly woman look up at the Emmit Till exhibition and slowly walked past it. It wasn’t just me.

 

Dera R. Williams is a published author of fiction, nonfiction and memoir, a griot who has co-authored a short story collection and a collection of childhood memories of growing up in Oakland.

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