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As a Brit, my two Emmett Tills

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — honoring the Civil Rights movement ]

I’m truly sorry, but these two photos tell a mother’s tale — Emmett Till as his mother knew and loved him, and Emmett Till as she found him, when she ordered his coffin opened…

There’s a documentary now released — Hope and Fury: MLK, the Movement and the Media — which features Emmett Till‘s image as revealed in photographs taken when his coffin was opened, and exploring how that image radicalized Americas’s awareness of the lynching mentality, sending a shock wave amplifying the emergent Civil Rights movement.

America is remembering — and I as a Brit have two Emmett Tills to remember: Hugh Masekela, — and Medgar Evers.


Hugh Masekela:

Hugh Masekela, the great jazz trumpeter whom my own mentor, Fr Trevor Huddleston mentored and gifted:


Medgar Evers:

Medgar Evers, first, because Bob Dylan recorded Only a Pawn in their Game:

which acquainted me, forcibly, with Medgar Evers’ name — and next because I knew his son, Darrell, for a few years:

That’s a pretty extraordinary interview, and the video itself wound up on the Eyes on the Prize cutting room floor.

Darrell’s description of his father’s pooled blood — Darrell being an artist — was seared into my mind by association with the painter’s term crimson lake.. a private association, surely, but no less forceful for that.


In those two names, their holders themselves both now deceased, I honor the civil rights movement in the US — our equivalent in the UK was the anti-apartheid movement, of which Fr Trevor was for many years the president.

Heroes, all — may they rest in peace.

Seymour Papert, RIP

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a somewhat personal note ]

Seymour Papert, photo by L. Barry Hetherington, via Papert’s NYT obit


Seymour Papert, artificial intelligence pioneer and one-time research colleague of Jean Piaget who was keenly interested in bringing children, education and computers together, has died.

The Jewish paper, Foward, has an obit which touches me personally, since it turns out that Papert knew and learnjed much from my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston. Key graphs from the obit:

Another activity that became more than a pastime was improving life conditions for his black neighbors in South Africa. Daniel Crevier’s “A. I.,” a history of machine intelligence, notes that Papert grew up in an otherwise all-black area. Papert acquired further insight and sensitivity into the issue of racism from lengthy discussions with Father Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid Anglican clergyman who often collaborated with Jewish activists sharing his views, notably the artist Hyman Segal of Russian Jewish origin, who illustrated Huddleston’s 1956 anti-apartheid study, “Naught For Your Comfort.”

As Desmond Tutu told an interviewer last year, Huddleston visited him regularly “when I nearly succumbed to tuberculosis. He taught me invaluable lessons about the human family; that it doesn’t matter how we look or where we come from, we are made for each other, for compassion, for support and for love.” This interfaith belief impressed young Papert as well, who like other South Africans of his generation was stunned when Huddleston did simple things like politely greeting black people in the street, acknowledging them as fellow human beings; one such recipient of unexpected civility was Desmond Tutu’s mother. In high school, Papert tried to arrange evening classes for illiterate black domestic servants, an activity strictly forbidden by the apartheid government.

Ever a logical thinker, Papert asked why black Africans were not permitted to attend white schools. The response was because of the threat of infectious disease, to which Papert replied that black servants prepared food and cared for children of the same white families, so the thought process at the basis of apartheid was clearly illogical.

For my own recollections of Fr Trevor, see:

  • Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston
  • Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament
  • h/t Derek Robinson

    Sunday surprise 2: the Robben Island Bible

    Sunday, August 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — believing great scripture and great poetry have much in common ]

    In what must be the most glorious mix-up of scriptures ever, this volume of Shakespeare‘s works:

    Shakespeare Robben Island

    was smuggled into the prison on Robben Island, S Africa, where Nelson Mandela and others were incarcerated, by Mandela’s fellow-prisoner Sonny Venkatrathnam, who invited other prisoners to sign it next to the passages that meant the most to them.


    Mandela’s signature is next to the passage in Julius Caesar, Act II scene ii, beginning:

    Cowards die many times before their deaths
    The valiant never taste of death but once.

    Featuring Krishna with his beguiling flute on its spine, the book has become known as the Robben Island Bible.

    Consider: this book inspired the man who brought an end to apartheid. How important would you say literature can be in the development of leaders of moral stature?


    Image sources:

  • Jonathan Bate, Ten books that changed the world
  • Mark Brown, British Museum Shakespeare exhibition to include prized Robben Island copy

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