David Driskell, Behold Thy Son, 1956

A renowned art historian, curator, and artist, David Driskell (b. 1931) began teaching at Talladega College, a historically black college in Alabama, in 1955. That same year Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, was brutally murdered by two white men in Money, Mississippi, for allegedly flirting with a white woman at a grocery store. The men were tried and acquitted by an all-white jury, even though both men later confessed to the murder during an interview with Look magazine. Driskell was so disturbed by these events he created Behold Thy Son (1956) in Till’s memory.

Behold Thy Son

Behold Thy Son, 1956.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Copyright David C. Driskill.

The painting is a modern-day Pietà, an artwork depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ following his crucifixion. The painting’s name is taken from the Bible, John 19:26, “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!” Driskell’s powerful tribute to this tragic event is a testament to a mother’s loss of her son. It also demonstrates how Till’s death became a catalyst for many people who participated in the modern Civil Rights Movement.