The principal investigator of the Emmett Till Memory Project gives five accounts of the commemoration of Till, whose 1955 murder catalyzed the Civil Rights movement. Historical tourism has transformed seemingly innocuous places like bridges, boat landings, gas stations, and riverbeds into sites of racial politics, reminders of the still-unsettled question of how best to remember the victim of this heinous crime.
[The book] underline[s] that history is always a work in progress, as perspectives change, memories dim or crystallize, emotions cool, and new facts emerge over time ... Tell...can be repetitive and rambling, and his arguments are too often obscured by a welter of detail and academic jargon. But he does help elucidate the commercial and ideological underpinnings of the Delta’s often competing memorials, as well as the white-supremacist context that doomed Till ... The overarching, perhaps overgeneralized thesis of Remembering Emmett Till is that commemoration cannot be understood without reference to both race and geography ... [Tell] argues, more convincingly, that the stories he relates 'reveal a world of controversy, patronage, nepotism, and enduring racism lurking just behind the surface of placid historical markers' ... Remembering Emmett Till is best read in conjunction with...some other, more linear history.
As it turns out, there’s money to be made from Civil Rights tourists ... [Tell's] book offers details of not only the execution of the boy, but also of the legal and civic efforts to deal with its aftermath ... And that’s what Tell’s book is about: the murder, the trial and its aftermath, and the efforts to remember. Yet he spares no detail about the economic considerations. I could not decide whether to be enlightened or appalled. How would Emmett Till react to having his murder be the catalyst for tourist dollars? Is it better to exploit the horrific crime than to ignore it altogether?
These tales provide a new view of civil rights but can get weighed down with academic detail. The book will mostly appeal to historians interested in civil rights, especially those looking at the intersection of ecology and memory