The stupidity of college students can be boggling at times. It makes one wonder about the quality of American education, particularly how well or how much young people are taught about history.
Had three University of Mississippi students fully understood the story of Emmett Till, we would hope they would not have thought it cute or clever to pose, holding long guns, in front of an already bullet-riddled sign in Tallahatchie County memorializing Till’s premature death, or to post the photo onto social media as some type of a boast.
It also was not very smart, as their actions reportedly caused the FBI to look into the matter, and could still prompt a Department of Justice investigation as to whether what they did constituted a hate crime. Unless there is more evidence to unearth, that’s probably a stretch, as the photo was taken at night with no one else around (other than possibly the photographer), and the social media post by one of the three students sounded more like a bad inside joke among friends than an attempt to harass or intimidate people of the opposite race.
Nevertheless, Till’s life and death are no joking matter. He came in 1955 to Mississippi from Chicago at the age of 14 to visit relatives and failed to make it out alive because he broke a couple of Southern racial taboos of the time: He was fresh with a white woman, and he apparently refused to grovel to the white men who were going to teach him a lesson for it.
Till’s murder — made worse by the racist attitude of jurors that empowered them to acquit his killers despite their obvious guilt — has been a curse on Mississippi for more than six decades. Every boneheaded and racist act, such as this photo, only continues to reinforce the negative stereotypes about this state in the national consciousness.
Ole Miss officials say the university has no grounds to discipline the three students since their actions didn’t occur at a university function or on campus. College students, after all, do have the right to behave like boorish numskulls away from school.
But someone other than the fraternity that suspended them does have the authority — and arguably the obligation — to use the incident as a teaching moment for the three. That someone would be their parents.
They could require their sons this fall to take a course at Ole Miss in civil rights history. If these three were to learn how cruelly and unjustly not only Till was treated but countless other blacks, who were lynched or beaten or humiliated as a way to try to keep them as second-class citizens, that would wipe the grin off the students’ faces. It might also help them mature into better-educated and better-behaving grown-ups.