Emmett Till should have turned 78 today.
If you don’t know the story of Emmett Till, you should. It is one of the major sparks that set the American civil rights movement.
Till was just 14 years old, visiting family in Money, Mississippi. He spoke to a white woman in a grocery store.
She went home and told her husband an exaggerated version of what Emmett said and did. To this day it is unclear what, if anything, young Emmitt said.
Three nights later her husband Roy Bryant and his brother went to Till’s uncle’s house and took Till out at gunpoint.
They pistol whipped him and then beat him for hours. They wrapped barbed around his neck. Finally, they shot him in the face, tied a 75 pound fan to him, then threw him in the Tallahatchee river. His body was discovered three days later.
His mom Mimi is one of the biggest heroes of the civil rights movement. Faced with unimaginable shock, grief, and pain; she still thought of the bigger picture. She had the body taken back to Chicago, and demanded an open casket funeral. The anguished mother wanted the world to see what happened to a black kid for talking to a white woman in the south. Nearly 30,000 people came to view the body. Pictures were shown in national magazines. There was outrage from coast to coast.
The woman that Till allegedly talked to was Carol Bryant. She was 21 years old. She testified in court that Till had “grabbed her and verbally harassed her” and “I was just scared to death.”
In 2016 Bryant admitted that she wasn’t telling the truth.
Nearly everyone in the town of Money, Mississippi knew who did it. The trial lasted five days. Jurors were allowed to drink beer during the trial. The judge greeted African Americans in the courtroom with two words to start the trial, “Hello Ni#####s” The jury deliberated for 67 minutes. One of the jurors laughed and said, “If we hadn’t of stopped to drink soda, it wouldn’t have taken that long.
They returned a unanimous “not guilty” verdict. Why wouldn’t they? No white person had ever been convicted of murder against a black person at that point in Mississippi.
It is a horrible story, but without it who knows when and if the movement would have gathered the steam this tragedy provided.
Emmitt Till should still be alive. He should be celebrating his birthday with his family. Instead he was killed 6 decades ago because he spoke to a white woman.
Part of loving your country is knowing its history, even the uncomfortable parts.
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