Monday, January 21, 2008

The tragedy of Emmett Till

(Tamara Zajac was an eighth grader at South Middle School during the 2005-2006 school year.)

Mamie Till (Emmett’s mother) was born in Money, Mississippi, and when she was two years old her family moved to Illinois. After Emmett was born, his father Louis Till was drafted to go fight in the army during World War 2. While there, he was executed from the army for raping two Italian women and murdering one. So Emmett had a hard childhood. He lived with his mother and grew up with segregation, but not much of it in Chicago.
( - Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, Events)

When Emmett was fourteen, his mother sent him to Money, Mississippi for the summer to visit his uncle, Moses Wright, and other relatives. She knew about the segregation in the south and tried to explain it all to Emmett before he left, but he was too excited. Since she was a teacher she told him exactly how to treat white people there and to not get into any trouble. She knew that race was very different in Mississippi than it was in Chicago. Over 500 black people had been killed or lynched in the south since 1882 and Mamie acted scared. There were many murders especially in the Mississippi Delta where Emmett was going. So racism was high. Another reason the racism was high was because of the decision that the U.S. Supreme Court made the year before, 1954, which was to end segregation in schools with the Brown verses Board of Education. Black voters were murdered and many others. It was hard times. ( -Emmett Till’s Death)

While in Money, Emmett and some of his cousins and friends walked into a store and bought some bubblegum for a couple of pennies. Roy Bryant and his wife Carolyn ran the small grocery store called Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market which Carolyn, a beautiful woman, was working at this day in August, 1955. While paying he whistled at, or somehow flirted with Carolyn Bryant who did not find it very amusing. She decided not to tell her husband about it yet because he and his half brother J.W. Milam were on a trucking route. When they returned, they heard about what Emmett Till did. ( “American Experience”) On August 28th, about 2:30 a.m. the two white men kidnapped Emmett. (Timelife books published 1993 pg 181(different kind of book-different information))

The two men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, broke into Moses Wright’s house, dragged out Emmett Till, and to keep everyone at the house and not following them, they held guns to the family. They whipped him, forced him to take his clothes off, gouged his eye out, shot him in the head, and then tied his body to a cotton gin with barbed wire around it, and threw him in the Tallahatchie River. On August 31st his body was found, floating on the bank. They murdered him. And all he did was improperly look at a white woman. ( -Emmett Till’s Death)

Even before Emmett’s body was found, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were arrested for kidnapping. They admitted they took him from his uncle, Moses Wright’s house, but they insisted that they let him go that same night, completely unharmed, which was a lie that everyone would soon find out. When the body was found, law enforcement officials quickly added murder to the charges against Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. Then a week later an all-white jury ordered the two men to stand trial, which was surprising for the southerners. Out of those 500 blacks lynched, very rarely was there any legal action for them. So when an action was taken for Emmett Till the whole world knew about it. His body in the corpse (which his mother insisted to keep open for the world to see) was seen everywhere. There were pictures of it in Jet Magazine and the case drew the attention of the United States. The governor of Mississippi at the time said that this case wasn’t a lynching. There was no racism involved in the crime. It was just a straight-out murder. So the south believed him. They were saying that Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam weren’t charged for any race related crime. The people living in the south didn’t want a bad reputation for being racist so they made up a story and told everyone that there was no racism involved. The trial only lasted one week with an all-white jury. So there was no chance that white men would accuse other white men of killing a black kid. There was no way that would happen. So on September 23rd, the all white jury talked for an hour, then declared Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam innocent. Three months later, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man on a bus. She thought about Emmett Till and what he went through and had to do something to defend him. That led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King to speak up. Emmett Till’s murder led to the civil rights movement.
(Levine, Ellen “Freedom’s Children” published 1993 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons pg 92)

When Emmett’s uncle Moses Wright came to defense, everyone was amazed that a black man stood up in court and pointed his finger to a white man. They said that was the first time it had ever happened. It was a rare and courageous act, they said.
( “The Lynching of Emmett Till” by: Chris Crowe)

“His bloated face was the ugliness of American racism staring us right in the eye.” Said Clenora Hudson-Weems. She was a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who wrote Emmett Till: Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil Rights Movement. Reading that is how most people heard about Emmett Till’s death, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Alan Steinberg. (Nine Women: Portraits from the American Radical Tradition by: Judith Nies pg 216 Google Book Search)

“Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son -- lynched?” said Mamie Till. "Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That's their business, not mine.' Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all."
( Cozens “The Murder of Emmet

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