Archive for the ‘Emmett Till’ Category

In August 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, IL, was visiting his family in Money, MS. Although segregation was evident in both the North and South, Mississippi was far worse than Emmett could have imagined. Emmett arrived in Money, MS August 21 and typically spent most of his time with his cousin and other young black kids, all under the age of 19. The facts of what really happened August 24 in Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, where the boys went to buy candy and soda, are still disputed. I’ve heard everything from he whistled at a white girl, whom was later recognized as Carolyn Bryant, the store owner. Some have said that he was dared by a cousin to flirt with a white girl and as he left the store he turned and said “Bye baby” to her. Carolyn Bryant, wife of Roy Bryant, one of the killers, said that he grabbed her by the waist and asked her for a date and used “unprintable” words. Whether he whistled, touched or spoke to her is besides the point. The cruel and unusual punishment that resulted stands to be historical.

Till had been beaten and had an eye gouged out, before he was shot through the head and thrown into the Tallahatchie River with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied to his body with barbed wire. His body was in the river for three days before being discovered and retrieved by two fishermen. Till’s features were too distorted by the beatings to easily identify him, but he was positively identified thanks to a ring he wore that had been his father’s. His mother had given it to him the day before he left for Money.

Since 1880, more than 500 people had been lynched in Mississippi, and only rarely was any legal action taken against whites who committed violence against blacks. Because of this long-standing “white” immunity against prosecution for lynching, many people believed that this was the first time a Mississippi court would hear a case of white men accused of a crime against a black man. It wasn’t the first case, but it quickly became the most famous. (Source)

Less than a day later, authorities charged Bryant and his half-brother, Milam, with kidnapping. After finding Emmett’s body, murder was added to their charges. Surprisingly, an all-white Sumner County grand jury ordered that the men stand trial. Immediately after the murder, many citizens of Mississippi condemned the killing but the intense media attention and harsh criticism from the northern states and organizations like the NAACP put Mississippi racists on the defensive. Widespread rumors of this case being a race-inspired lynching were quickly disputed by Mississippi Governor Hugh White. “This is not a lynching,” he told reporters. “It is straight out murder.”


(Roy Bryant, left, and J.W. Milam, right, at the trial.)

Soon Bryant and Milam went from criminals to martyrs. Newspapers and local authorities began reacting to the pressure from the North and were now supposedly “defending the South, not the two killers.” However, on September 23, 1955 after a week long trial, less than an hour of dilberating from the jury, Bryant and Milam were declared innocennt. People realized that race relations had declined to such a low level, that even children were no longer safe from racist violence.

His abduction and murder in Mississippi in August 1955, and the subsequent acquittal of his killers the following month, became not only a national story, but also put Southern racism into the international spotlight. These events became a major force in the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement. Some would even say they were the catalyst. (Source)

Destined for obscurity
Until you took a south-bound train.
But soon we saw your battered face,
And we felt your mother’s pain.

Because bad men, with their hearts of stone,
Who delight in dirty deeds,
Unknowingly fulfilled the word
That it’s a little child that leads.

And “black” meant “brave” those summer days,
Enduring threats and fear.
But the Tallahatchie’s deeper now
Because it holds our tears.

Tried, acquitted, they walked the streets
They bragged, then lived in shame.
Living life disowned, alone,
In prisons without names.

Making sense of senseless acts
Decades later, now we see.
Despite the walls now broken down,
We’re just beginning to be free

An only child, a mother’s son,
You moved a sleeping land.
And as one of heaven’s angels,
You’ve moved us once again.

Devery Scott Anderson
(c) 2004

“If racism and racial bigotry are to be eliminated, then individuals in all so-called “racial” groups will have to examine and change specific beliefs, values and attitudes about “race.” The same individuals will have to change related negative behaviors directed towards members of other so-called “racial” groups. They will have to work to responsibly change in their respective cultures those institutions, social processes and value allocation systems which treat members of other “racial” groups unfairly and deny them power, privilege and status or, more fundamentally, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

For more information, visit these sites The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and Emmett Till Murder.com.