Hartford Deacon Arthur Miller told a Windsor Art Center audience on Thursday that America’s “indifference” over the ongoing genocide in Darfur is similar to that which allowed Emmett Till to be lynched in 1955.
Miller, who wrote “Journey to Chatham: Why Emmett Till’s Murder Changed America, A Personal Story,” is the Archdiocese of Hartford’s representative with the Connecticut Coalition to Save Darfur. The group formed in 2005 to get America to help end the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. The east African nation has reportedly seen 400,000 people killed and some 2.5 million others displaced because of the conflict between the government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia and the native non-Arab tribes there.
But indifference, Miller said, is part of the problem here. He said that here in America, people are, in effect, condoning the Darfur genocide by doing nothing about it. The attitude, he said, is similar to what he saw in America during the defining event of his life – Till’s murder. Miller knew Till when he was a child.
From Miller’s perspective, American history is divided into two parts.
Those parts, he said, are the period before the racially motivated lynching of Till, his 14-year-old schoolmate, and afterward, when America began to come to grips with the realization that only a racist society could condone such a killing.
“The world began to see itself for what it was,” Miller said, adding that he still remembers his “awakening” that Sunday morning to the sound of the anguished scream from his brother, who’d just heard news of Till’s lynching.
“Somewhere in the universality of time, the pain in my brother’s scream still exists,” Miller said. “It hangs there, naked, coldly carrying the hurts, injustices, crimes, and horrific ugliness that scarred the soul of America.”
He also took a moment to set the record straight, telling the gathering of 46 that Till was not murdered because he had whistled at a white woman, which is the general description people usually hear. Rather, Miller said, Till was murdered “because he lived in a racist society that deemed it OK to murder somebody.”
What really happened?
Till suffered from polio as a young child, according to Miller, and as a result he developed a speech impediment. In order to speak, Till sometimes had to whistle, Miller said. So whatever actually occurred that set off the brutal attack that left Till battered beyond recognition, the impact of the crime helped set into motion the modern civil rights movement.
Miller tied the events together in his closing remarks, speaking almost lyrically at times.
“At this moment, 10,000 miles away [in Darfur], a little girl, 2 years old, is hungry,” he said. “This little, baby girl will not last long, her death will be painful, and forgotten like so many others
“If we turn our heads, if we look away in hopes that this will all disappear, we will be right,” he said. “For they will all disappear, they will disappear into the ugliness of our apathy. We cannot let it happen.
“10,000 miles away, death is still death, ugliness is still ugliness, pain is still pain, injustice remains injustice. 10,000 miles away, wrong is still wrong,” Miller said. “There is no land that is so far away that we can’t hear the cry of this little girl.”
Miller also pointed out several culture’s holidays that ended recently, including Kwanzaa. He said that Kwanzaa is supposed to be a gathering of African-Americans to celebrate their kinship with the people of Africa. “Too many members of our community are strangely quiet” about Darfur, he said.
But he wasn’t at the arts center to ask for money for Darfur. Rather, Miller said he hopes people will get involved and voice their support for action to help stop the violence. People who feel that America should try to end the conflict can click on these links to contact their representatives, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. Chris Dodd, and the White House by phone, mail, or email to let them know that they want the U.S. to help Darfur.
Miller says the best solution appears to be the need to fund a united African military force to police Sudan and stop the killing of innocents. Currently, Miller said, there is an existing African force of about 10,000, but Sudan is half the size of the United States – too large for a force of 10,000 to control – and the violence is continuing.
He said people also should contact their financial institutions, particularly those with whom they invest their money, and instruct them not to invest their funds in companies that do business with Sudan.
Further, since China is one of the largest investors in Sudan, Miller also suggested contacting Steven Spielberg, who he says has been hired by China to help televise the upcoming Olympic games. Miller said people can try to contact Spielberg at DreamWorks to try to push China away from supporting the Sudanese government.
Another talk by Miller is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31 at Windsor High School, where teacher Alan Strauss’s Human Rights class is organizing an event to raise student awareness of the Darfur genocide. Students Pete Carpenter, Audrey Sperry, and Carly DeVito attended Thursday’s talk and said they thought Miller’s message was powerful.
They said they’ve been studying Darfur in the class for the last few months, and agree with Miller that writing checks isn’t the best approach at this point, but instead want to help raise public awareness about the crisis.
The backdrop for Thursday’s talk also included Windsor artist Lon C. Pelton’s metal sculpture exhibit titled, “Diefor?” which is on display at the center.