When I was 14 years old, Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl was required reading in my all Black school. Anne’s Diary touched the hearts of millions of people the world over. It’s said to be second in sales only to the Holy Bible.
As a young girl coming of age, I could identify with Anne in so many ways. But for geography and ethnicity, we could have been sisters.
I could not begin to comprehend how a society that excelled in science, medicine, music, philosophy and literature, could send millions of Jewish people to die in the “work camps” and crematoriums.
How could a civilized nation allow hate to ignite and flame into the Holocaust?
I had just wiped the tears from my eyes as I closed the pages of Anne’s Diary only to open those of JET magazine and discover the grotesque remains of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago, Illinois.
While visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi, the Jim Crow South, Emmett was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. After Emmett's body was returned to Chicago under a court order, his mother, Mamie, insisted that the lid of the coffin be up so the world could see what happens to black people at the hands of racist Whites. As I stared at the photograph of Emmett’s disfigured body, I knew that it could have been me in that coffin.
The irony is that both Anne and Emmett would have been swept into the ash heap of history and forgotten but for their parents' determination to keep their lives and deaths alive.
For more than five decades, both Anne and Emmett resided in separate places in my mind, perhaps reflecting America’s racist, segregationist policies. But their two lives suddenly snapped together at a moment when a friend insulted my history and heritage. Her comment released a spark that brought Anne and Emmett together in an imaginary place I call Memory. There they learn of their differences and most importantly, of their commonalities. It is through their conversation that they remind us of the role that race, religion and ethnicity have played in the past, and how today, we are witnessing the rise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in America and European countries. In America they carry semi-automatic weapons and tiki-torches while shouting Hitlerian slogans, “Blood and Soil” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us.”
In Memory, Anne and Emmett are destined to remain locked in an endless conversation until the chain of mankind’s bigotry is broken by the grace of illumination and knowledge.
Their imaginary conversation 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.
Their cry and my goal is a call to action to: Stop the Hate! Tikkun Olam!
We are not doomed to repeat the past if we listen to their voices. We can repair the world.