Jerry Smith Sr., cousin of the late Emmett Till, was denied the Purple Heart Medal on account of his race, but a new short film aims to change this.
Jerry Smith Sr., a cousin of the late Emmett Till, was denied the Purple Heart Medal on account of his race, but a new short film aims to change this, according to a recent press release.
The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to United States Armed Forces members who have been injured or killed in combat. Smith and his family have long maintained that he deserves the honor but have been repeatedly denied, an injustice that has been controversial for years. This has triggered a Change.org petition and now a movie.
The 9-minute short film, titled In Honor of a Purple Heart, follows Smith’s journey from foster care to becoming a Vietnam War veteran.
“I want to have an effect on the people I come in contact with. I want to be a motivation for them and make them aware you can survive anything as long as you believe. Be thankful for what you have and what you don’t have, don’t worry about it. You’re still alive,” Smith says in the video.
Smith’s experiences with racism date back to when he was just a boy, living in the rural South during the Jim Crow era. As a young Black foster child, he was rarely told of his value in the world. Rather, he was taught to feel inferior to his white counterparts, a sentiment that was only further supported by the 1955 murder of his 14-year-old cousin Emmett Till, who was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman and found murdered in a river shortly after.
Smith, too, was subject to false allegations as a teenager, which resulted in him losing a scholarship to Kansas State University. He was forced to flee and wound up enlisting in the military during the Vietnam War. While serving, Smith sustained an injury from a Punji stick, a spiked device often used in war. However, he was denied the Purple Heart Medal and was told that Black people don’t receive the honor.
Eric Scott Johnson, a producer of the film, spoke about its significance. “The film has won awards at festivals, but this is about something more important,” he said. “This is about Jerry Smith Sr. getting what was wrongfully withheld from him solely due to his race.”
Source: Black Enterprise