Emmett Till: How She Sent Him and How She Got Him Back

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Emmett Till: How She Sent Him and How She Got Him Back
ArtistLisa Whittington
MediumMixed Media
MovementContemporary art
LocationMississippi Civil Rights Museum, Jackson, Mississippi

Emmett Till: How She Sent Him and How She Got Him Back is a painting completed by African-American artist, Lisa Whittington, in 2012. The painting is a portrait of a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till. In 1955, he was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, from Chicago, when he was kidnapped and lynched by two white men for offending a white woman. Emmett Till's mother, Mamie Till, held an open casket funeral, and allowed the media to cover it, as well as the physical appearance of Emmett Till's body.[1] She had said, "I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby."[2] As of February 2019, Emmett Till: How She Sent Him and How She Got Him Back, is displayed at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. The original work is mixed media on canvas, and is 24 inches in length by 36 inches in height.


In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Whittington says that when she "saw a picture of Mamie Till receiving the body of her son at an Illinois terminal after his murder,"[3] she was inspired to create the painting. It took her "over ten years" to complete because of the emotional toll it took on her. She worked back and forth between Emmett Till: How She Sent Him and How She Got Him Back, and a separate painting Mamie Till: Grace Under Fire (2018).


The left side of the painting uses bright colors and clean lines to display Emmett Till's face before he was found lynched. The right side of the painting uses dark colors and texture to display Emmett Till's face after he was found lynched. The detail present in the painting on the right side of the face is consistent with reports done in an autopsy by the FBI, and with witness testimonies given in the same report.[4] It is also accordant with photos of Emmett Till's face before and after the lynching, shared throughout the media after his death.[5]


When a similar painting by Dana Shutz, Open Casket (2016), was shown at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and sparked public debate,[6] comparison in the media between the two pieces began.[7][8][9]

Dr. Jared Sexton, author and professor of African American studies, describes Dr. Whittington's painting as such: "Careful and responsible is the leitmotif of Whittington's painting, as it is for most black artists, critics and curators who have weighed in on the matter representing Emmett Till and the whole range of issues that seem to condense around his image and likeness."[7]


Dr. Lisa Whittington's main influence is Vincent van Gogh. She is fascinated with his work, The Starry Night (1889). In a TED Talk, she says "nobody had ever given [the wind] color until Vincent Van Gogh did that for me."[10] She is also influenced by Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Pablo Picasso, and Romare Bearden.

Other works[edit]

Harlem Baby: My Lord What A Morning (2015), I Am A Man (2016), Mamie Till: Grace Under Fire (2018), Emmett, Until (2018), Except As A Punishment For Crime (2019)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Deneen L. (12 July 2018). "Emmett Till's mother opened his casket and sparked the civil rights movement". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Race: The Great American Divide - Brookings Institution". 2010-06-06. Archived from the original on 2010-06-06. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  3. ^ "#MuseumsSoWhite: Emmett Till painting backlash proves gallery representation matters". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  4. ^ "Emmett Till Part 01 of 02". FBI. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  5. ^ Rev. 1113, Angela Onwuachi-Willig* 102 Iowa L. "Policing the Boundaries of Whiteness: The Tragedy of Being "Out of Place" from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin". Iowa Law Review. Retrieved 2019-06-03.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Kennedy, Randy (2017-03-21). "White Artist's Painting of Emmett Till at Whitney Biennial Draws Protests". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  7. ^ a b Sexton, Jared (2017-05-21). "The Rage: Some Closing Comments on "Open Casket"". contemptorary. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  8. ^ Jayawardane, M. Neelika. "Abstracting the savaged body of Emmett Till". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  9. ^ Abdurahman, J. Khadijah (2018-05-20). "The Hood". Medium. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  10. ^ TEDx Talks (2017-05-05), What Does Art Want With You? | Lisa Whittington | TEDxDeerPark, retrieved 2019-05-27

External links[edit]