Still in the possession of the Justice Department as a civil rights investigation is being conducted, the hoodie worn by teenager Trayvon Martin on the evening of his death has arguably become an iconic symbol. It seems somewhat cockeyed that after all the legal proceedings subside, it will be returned to the Sanford Police Dept., and from there, Trayvon’s parents will be given an opportunity to collect it. Why not give it to them first?
Trayvon’s hoodie now stands for something. In one night it evolved from an article of clothing used to profile to an artifact used in protest. Worn by people of different races, genders, religions, and sexual orientation, it now serves as a unifier; no words are necessary, just wear your hoodie.
“I would like to see it preserved,” the Rev. Al Sharpton proclaimed into a cellphone on his way to a White House meeting about voting rights with President Obama.
Sharpton is imagining what it would be like if we could see a snatch of clothing worn by Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who became a civil rights icon because he was killed after being accused of flirting with a white woman in 1950s Mississippi. Martin is this generation’s Emmett Till, Sharpton says. He calls the unarmed teenager’s death by a bullet that first pierced his hoodie, and then pierced his heart, the first civil rights flash point of the 21st century. And his hoodie is central to that distinction, an item of clothing that Sharpton says was used to profile Martin as a criminal. “The hoodie now represents an image of an urban street kid that either embraces or engages in street thug life,” he said. “I think it’s unfair.” By wearing hoodies at rallies, Sharpton says, he and others are seeking a redefinition.
Sharpton would like to see the hoodie reside one day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture now under construction on the Mall and expected to open in 2015. The museum’s director, Lonnie Bunch, has assembled other pieces with legal themes. He acquired a guard tower from Louisiana’s notorious Angola State Penitentiary and the handcuffs used to restrain renowned African American scholar and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in an episode that sparked a national debate about race and led to a “beer summit” with Obama aimed at cooling passions.
Read more of this story at the Washington Post.