To help me understand and articulate the need to find tolerance and harmony in the world rather than hate, I have turned to an imaginary vision of two historic and tragic victims of institutionalized terrorism, Anne Frank and Emmett Till. Anne Frank needs little exposition. Her Diary has been read by untold millions in virtually in every country for generations. Anne’s story is that of a people in desperate need of help against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party that had goose stepped its way across much of Europe during the 1930’s and 1940’s, conquering country after country.
Through the young, intelligent voice of Anne, we learn what it was like for her and her family to live in fear, to be forced to huddle together with others in a small, confined hideaway, and to cling to hope in their darkest hours as the Nazis came to cart them off to slave labor camps and crematoriums.
Few people today know the story of Emmett Till and the impact that his violent death had upon the fate and future of black people and how it changed America. Emmett was a young black boy (about Anne’s age) who, in 1955, traveled from his home in Chicago, Illinois to visit his great uncle in Money, Mississippi. While there, he committed the unpardonable crime of having whistled at a white woman.
He was abducted from his uncle’s home, savagely beaten, tortured, shot and then, with a cotton gin fan tied around his body, thrown into the Tallahatchie River. When Emmett’s body was recovered several days later and returned to his mother in Chicago, she insisted that his coffin be open during the funeral ceremony. When photographs of his hideously mangled face were published in Jet Magazine, it unleashed a fury in the black community. The photographs sparked domestic and international outrage and served to energize the Civil Rights Movement in America.
Nearly fifty years passed before the U. S. Justice Department decided to reopen the case to determine whether there might have been others involved in Emmett’s murder who could be prosecuted. On June 20, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Emmett Till Civil Rights Act which provided authority and funding for the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit to focus on solving crimes committed before 1969. On October 7, 2008, the legislation was made into Public Law 110-344.
Anne & Emmett reminds us of the role that race, religion and ethnicity have played in the past and how hatred and the evil of genocide continue to stalk the world. Anne Frank and Emmett Till meet somewhere in time, in Memory, where they are destined to remain locked in a conversation until the chain of mankind’s bigotry is broken by the grace of illumination and knowledge.
The imaginary conversation that follows is offered with the hope that it will appeal to all audiences, but most specifically to those of Anne and Emmett’s age, lest they never know or are allowed to forget. I dedicate this performance to the parents of Anne Frank and Emmett Till, Otto Frank and Mamie Till-Mobley for sharing Anne and Emmett with the world.
Performances are suitable for children 12 and up.