By Gianni Marabella
Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp spoke as a guest speaker at the Sept. 29 convocation. He discussed his career in relation to the murder of Emmett Till, and how the now 60–year–old case has shaped his goals and accomplishments.
Beauchamp released his documentary, The “Untold Story of Emmett Till,” in 2005. The film was a culmination of everything he had learned about the case since he began his research in 1996.
For Beauchamp, Till’s murder was more than just an example of brutal racial injustice; it was the stepping off point for the Civil Rights Movement.
“One must remember that before there was a Martin Luther King Jr. and a Rosa Parks, there was Emmett Louis Till,” Beauchamp said. “The murder of Emmett Till woke the sleeping giant within the Black community around the world, and I come to you today to help keep that fire burning.”
Emmett Till was an African-American boy from Chicago who went south to Money, Mississippi to visit relatives in 1955. The 14 year old was accused of flirting with Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Her husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother John Milam kidnapped Till from his great-uncle’s home and went on to torture and murder him.
Beauchamp has dedicated much of his life to studying Till, and was a major factor in the reopening of the case in 2004. This cause completely changed his career plans.
“My plan was to go to college and major in criminal justice, which I did, and eventually become a civil rights attorney. But the world had other plans,” Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp knew that he wanted to fight for those who had suffered injustice like Till when, at a high school graduation party in 1989, a police officer tied him to a chair and beat him for dancing with a white classmate.
“There I was, tied to a chair and beaten like I was someone’s punching bag. It was a wakening time in my life. I had to do all I could to give myself the power to make sure these things never happen to people. I decided to speak for the voiceless.”
Beauchamp went on to discuss the impact of the Till case not only on the Civil Rights Movement, but on today’s society.
“It is a shock to have been alive long enough to see history repeat itself,” said Beauchamp. “To see the progress we fought for start to drip away. Can you honestly say we are living the dream the Dr. King wanted us to live?”
After showing the attendees a portion of a “60 Minutes” episode detailing the reopening of the Emmett Till case, Beauchamp took time to directly address the Willamette community. He explained that his goal is to help people both recognize injustice in the world and find a way to combat it.
“I found my way of taking this on,” said Beauchamp. “My hope for you is to push you in a direction of understanding what your destiny will be. Films can bring change, and by becoming a filmmaker I have gained the power to speak to a huge and diverse audience about what matters.”
Beauchamp is currently working with Whoopi Goldberg on a major motion picture about the Till case, and plans to continue speaking at universities about racial injustice and how we can stand up to it.