Through the Black Lens

When Mamie Till insisted on an open casket funeral service for her 14 year-old son in Chicago in 1955, thousands of people stood in line outside the door of the church and waited to see in-person the horrors of Mississippi. Mamie invited dozens of journalists, civil rights leaders and photographers to witness, record and share in the hurricane of pain and turmoil that comes with a mother burying her son.

When photographer David Jackson walked up to the altar where Emmett’s body lay, he raised his camera and captured Emmett’s unrecognizable face. In that moment, Jackson immortalized the face that launched a million heartaches.

Once Black and white Americans saw that image published in the press over and over again, it broke a code of silence in society. Folx who had been far removed from irrational white rage and southern confederacy now held the evidence of meaningless Black death. Folx who had been screaming for help and fighting racial injustice now had solid proof of the horrific killings of innocent Black men, women and children at the hands of white men. However, even with this clear image of a teenage boy’s face, busted and brutalized, every single man charged for Emmett’s murder was acquitted of all charges.

Sixty-five years later and the evidence of Black death caused by white rage, especially killings committed by police officers, is more visible than ever. Today, it’s not a photograph that a photographer takes at a funeral home for a national magazine. Today, we view attacks on the Black body in HD video over the internet from the comfort of our own homes.

In this video, photographer Shawn Shuttlesworth and photojournalist Darrell Peacock talk about the responsibilities of telling Black stories through images and the nuances of capturing Black pain.