Novelist Bebe Moore Campbell was only five when Emmett Till was murdered on August 28, 1955. But in Your Blues Ain't Like Mine (1992) she seeks to answer the question that black teenagers in Mississippi, and indeed many people from all over the United States, asked after seeing the photograph of Till's mutilated and bloated body: "How could they do that to him? He's only a boy" (Dittmer 58). Campbell embraces the view that Lillian Smith expressed in Killers of the Dream (1949): "The warped, distorted frame we have put around every Negro child from birth is around every white child also. Each is on a different side of the frame but each is pinioned there" (30-31). Campbell's decision to open her novel with the white woman's perspective and then move on to the black youth's consciousness signals her determination to name all the sources of pain and powerlessness that led to Till's murder. Your Blues Ain't Like Mine explores the consequences of being psychically abused during childhood, whether because of race or class or gender or color, and the possibilities for reconciliation between blacks and whites, between men and women, and across class lines. In a departure from the earlier literary chroniclers of Emmett Till's story, Campbell begins her novel with his murder but then writes hope into the aftermath. To accomplish this feat she widens her focus from Mississippi to Chicago and fast-forwards her narrative into the present.

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Copyright © 2007 Louisiana State University Press. This chapter first appeared in Emmett Till in Literary Memory and Imagination.

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