Saturday, March 26, 2016

Those Jet beauties vs. Emmett Till

Model Beverly Weathersby on the Sept. 15, 1955 cover
Talk to people, perhaps mostly men, of a certain age about Jet magazine, and they might mention those recurring "Jet Beauty" images. For decades, each week, the magazine published a photograph of a black woman posing in a swimsuit in every issue. The image was/is considered eye-candy for male viewers and offered models opportunities to gain national exposure.     

Jet ceased publishing print issues of the magazine in June 2014. Although large numbers of people read the magazine for its round-up of African American news items and while some  know the magazine because of those attractive Jet beauties, the magazine became nationally known for the image of Emmett Till's murdered and battered face and body in the September 15, 1955 issue of the publication.  The shocking and terrifying image of Till circulated widely and exposed African American audiences to the horrors of anti-black violence in a series of dramatic photographic images.  

I thought about that issue of Jet while reading Philip C. Kolin's volume of poems Emmett Till in Different States (2015). The book is comprised of poems about Till, his murder, and the aftermath. Several of the poems are written from the first-person persona of Till.

Kolin has one poem entitled "The Jet Photo," where Till mentions that issue of the magazine. The poem opens:
That gorgeous Beverly Weathersby
showed her stuff on the cover of Jet
but they saved the frothy horrors
of me on a slab at A. A. Rayner's
for the deep insides,
Truth be known,
there's more of me on the outside
than in.
 Weathersby was a model who appeared in different issues of Jet during the mid-1950s. She appeared on the cover of that famous September 1955 issue of Jet. Despite her apparent beauty however, what people are haunted by was that horrifying image of a murdered black boy. 

During the course of its history, Jet has published more than 3,000 "beauties." There were so many, that few are known by name. But we all recall the name "Emmett Till," and that photograph from the magazine is difficult to forget. 

Marilyn Nelson & Philip Kolin on Emmett Till 
Philip C. Kolin fuses art and history in Emmett Till book 

No comments: