“I don’t see that not being picked up,” he said.
And so, at some undefined point in the future — it could be years — Martin’s parents will have a choice to make. And they’re certain to get plenty of advice.
“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, more than any other person, might be responsible for bringing the Martin killing to trial. He organized the huge rally in Sanford that brought such pressure on Florida officials that the governor eventually appointed a special prosecutor to take on the case.
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.
Martin’s hoodie, Bunch said, represents a unique opportunity to further the discussion about race in America. (And, by the way, he’d love to have it for his collection once the legal case plays out. He also has his eye on the hoodie that Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, wore in solidarity with protesters.)
“It became the symbolic way to talk the Trayvon Martin case. It’s rare that you get one artifact that really becomes the symbol,” Bunch said. “Because it’s such a symbol, it would allow you to talk about race in the age of Obama.”
Curators, he mused, could “ask the bigger questions” prompted by the case.
“Are we in a post-racial age?” Bunch asked, dreaming about how the hoodie might help shape perceptions. Then he answered the question: “This trial says, ‘No.’ ”
Trayvon Martin’s death has put spotlight on perceptions about hoodies
Evolution of the hoodie
A short history of the hoodie
Josh White contributed to this report.