As a supposed tribute to Black History Month, a company called Hstry tweeted a play-by-play of the events leading up to the 14-year old Till’s murder and the trial that followed, in which his killers were acquitted. It was a pivotal tragedy that fueled the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.
The first-hand account, told through a series of dozens of tweets, is largely written from the perspective of Moses Wright, Emmett Till’s Great Uncle. No sources are cited, and it appears to be a dramatized version of Wright’s memories.
Hstry CEO Thomas Ketchell told Mashable that the first-person narrative segments were inspired by sources listed in an accompanying lesson plan.
But for many Twitter users, the retelling of a horrific crime — and the promotion around it — came off as ham-handed and inappropriate for a month intended as a celebration of black culture:
There were also charges that the account was partly taken from an article by journalist William Bradford Huie. The journalist allegedly paid Till’s killers thousands of dollars to get their rendition of his death.
Despite the backlash, some thought the controversy was overblown.
According to Hstry’s website, the company aims to turn history into interactive timelines and sell students and teachers tools to do the same. The company was founded in Belgium but also has an office in the U.S.; it has previously published “live-tweeted” timelines of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
The company posted an apology on Twitter, and followed up with a blog post in which it refuted accusations of a publicity stunt.
“We wish to apologize profusely for causing any distress during our live Twitter re-enactment of the court case following the tragic death of Emmett Till,” the blog post said. “Please be assured that this was not our intention. We were not tweeting to create controversy, nor to increase web traffic.”
UPDATED 8 p.m. PT to include Hstry CEO’s comment.
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