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'The Ballad of Emmett Till' Pays Tribute to His Civil Rights Legacy

Renaissance Theatreworks

Sixty years ago this past summer, 14-year-old Emmett Till traveled from Chicago to Mississippi to visit family. Two weeks later, his corpse was discovered in the Tallahatchee River after he was murdered by two white men who accused him of flirting with a white woman.

His death, in part, sparked the modern civil rights movement, although his story is not as well-known as other landmark moments in the movement.

The Ballad of Emmett Till, by Ifa Bayeza, celebrates the Emmett Till we never got to know. 

"It's very easy to miss that everything was great and wonderful until this day, so my goal was to add on to what the community doesn't know," says director Marti Gobel.

The play utilizes contemporary prose, jazz, and gospel music in order to be a celebration of Till's life and a tribute to his legacy in history. Actor Marques Causey plays Emmett Till, and for him it was important to truly portray the positivity in the young boy's life that is often overshadowed by his death.

"He doesn’t know his fate. He’s just a 14-year old boy living his life, loving life – you know, enjoying every minute of it, and being loved," says Causey.

While the play is a celebration of life, director Marti Gobel also hopes it serves as a reminder to not only initiate reflection, but purpose.

"I hope that people fall in love with the spirit of Emmett Till, who we are no doubt calling to the stages for our run. And I hope that they are heartbroken and I hope that whatever strong emotions that they feel motivates them into action," says Gobel.

The Ballad of Emmett Till opens Friday night at Renaissance Theatreworks’ space in the Broadway Theatre Center in the 3rd Ward. 

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.