Focus on the details, and the cases seem very different. One was killed by virulent white racists, the other by a part-Hispanic neighborhood watchman who insists he faced a vicious attack. One was weighted down and dumped in a river; in the other case, police were called by the shooter himself.
Six decades and myriad details separate the deaths of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, two black teenagers felled by violence. Yet in the way America reacted to Martin's death — and the issues that echoed afterward — his case has created a national racial conversation in the much same manner as the saga of Till, infamously murdered in 1955 for flirting with a white woman.
Plenty of people do not see the Martin case as about race at all. But for others who study America's racial past and present, each killing is a defining moment for its era - a fraught microcosm of what we are, and what we are trying to become.
"Trayvon Martin is today's race case," says Christopher Darden, a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, another defining American moment. "I don't know that anybody can really sit there and objectively look at the evidence. It arrives with so many different kinds of emotions."
Just as the Till saga remains a searing archetype of the brutal segregation that gave rise to the civil rights movement, the Martin case captures the ambiguous meanings of race in America at a time when both the president and the lowest segments of society are black.
Emmett Till showed what needed to be done in 1955. Now, Trayvon Martin reveals to us the racial landscape of 2013.