NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 107

BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE It was, in the phrase that Dent would use as title for the play that he developed through the fst’s offshoot, the Congo Square Writers’ Union, a ritual murder. The details I most recall from the museum’s strongly worded descriptions are those that accompanied a grainy, black-andwhite image of the monstrous body, listing the known wounds that Emmett Till had suffered, as he was tortured and killed, in particular that his eye — the one that had allegedly gazed with desire upon a white woman — that had transgressed the unspoken rules of black-white relations in the Jim Crow South — had been gouged out. 105 As catalogued in excruciating detail in the museum, what followed was the usual symbolic theater of violence represented by lynching. The spectatorial nature of this performance is described by James Baldwin in “Going to Meet the Man,” and represented graphically by the souvenir postcards that James Allen collected and displayed in the searing exhibition Without Sanctuary. Mamie Till’s decision to hold an open-casket funeral and to allow national media to publish photographs of her son’s horribly disfigured body, along with the fact that over 100,000 people filed past the casket to see the object that Bryant and Millam had made of fourteen year-old Emmett Till, was a powerful impetus to what followed: national and international outrage; Rosa Park’s decision to remain in the front of the Birmingham bus; the “more activist mass-movement phase” of the Civil Rights struggle described by Tom Dent. The act of looking, and the code of the gaze. Plenty of academic ink has been spilled on the latter, and the former is something all of us who possess sight perform continually in our wakened state, but most often without thinking about it. Certainly, Dent’s Southern Journey had shaped my ways of seeing the landscapes we traveled through, from New Orleans north across the Delta, mostly by making more vivid the relationships that in every respect had shaped that landscape and the networks — social, political, economic — that are embedded within it. What had also shaped my perception was the fact of my traveling companion. Lady works as a simultaneous interpreter at a private pediatric clinic in Manhattan, and in addition to photography, we share an interest in the ways that people communicate through or across different languages or cultures, not to reduce meaning or make it more efficient, but to open it to the future. The day we came across ethic was one of notable silence, the traces or remains of some now-forgotten argument and the exhaustion of the road.