ORANGE, NJ - Kenneth and Charlotte Brown, founders of the United Youth of New Jersey, told the tragic, yet pivotal, story of the lynching of Emmet Till, an event that galvanized the Civil Rights Movement in 1955, to a packed room of residents at the Housing Authority of the City of Orange, February 6.

The event was one of a series of programs, one a week throughout February, celebrating Black History at HACO. Other programs included a dance recital, a movie, and a guest speaker. Approximately 100 residents gathered in the Washington Community Room at HACO headquarters on Thomas Boulevard to hear the couple discuss their play A Mother’s Cry, The Emmet Till Story. Afterwards, they presented the video to the residents. 

“We are grateful to Charlotte and Kenneth Brown for bringing this important episode to the attention of present-day audiences,” said Dr. Walter McNeil, HACO’s executive director. “Tragedies like the story of Emmet Till should never be forgotten. They serve as reminders of the importance of respecting every individual as an equal and recognizing their value.”

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The couple established United Youth of New Jersey nearly two decades ago as a youth/community-based nonprofit, dedicated to working with at-risk youth and the community at large. Among their many programs are original plays with Black History themes that are written, directed, and produced by the Browns.

“We have taken hundreds of youth off the street corners and involved them in positive and productive programs that are still in operation today,” explained Charlotte Brown. “We believe that if you have enough positive programs going on for our youth, they will not have time to get into trouble. They will be learning in the process.” 

One of those lessons in history is the story of Emmet Till, the 14-yer-old African American from Chicago who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly flirting with a white woman. His assailants were the woman’s husband and her brother, who made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head and then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river. The two men were acquitted by an all-male, white jury and afterwards admitted to the murder in a Life magazine article when they couldn’t be re-tried. Decades later, the woman involved acknowledged that she had lied.

Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, insisted on an open casket vividly displaying her son’s mutilated remains. The pictures were published in Jet magazine, and the story enraged a nation, launching the Civil Rights movement.

About the Orange Housing Authority

The City of Orange Housing Authority works to transform the City of Orange by providing safe, livable and affordable housing that promotes the development of communities. At the Orange Housing Authority, participants are not statistics, they are neighbors. The OHA knows the community and tailors programs to better serve the participant’s needs. Whether it is a search for housing, assistance with foreclosure or neighborhood development, the Orange Housing Authority stands ready to offer its services to all residents.