Though 53 years have passed, scholars are still looking into the brutal murder of teenager Emmett Till, according to an article in the Commercial Appeal of Columbus, Mississippi:
Truth is in the eye of the beholder.
But whose truth will you believe?
Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of Emmett Till, the black teen from Chicago, Ill., who was brutally slain in Money in 1955, said in a memoir, what mattered then was the color of the person telling the supposed truth.
A white lie was widely accepted over a black truth.
Perhaps, at the time of Till's murder - when he was beaten, tortured, murdered and thrown into a river - it was true.
Or perhaps it's the first public version of the “truth” we are inclined to believe.
In 1956, there were many theories on how and why Till was murdered.
But journalist William Bradford Huie introduced a new twist to the story - the confession of the two brothers accused of the murder.
“The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” ran in LOOK Magazine, introduced by the words, “Disclosed here is the true account of the slaying in Mississippi of a Negro youth named Emmett Till.”
It was the truth according to J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant; both men had been found not guilty - by an all-white, all-male jury - of the murder in September of the previous year, just a month after Till's death.
Huie's truth, which introduced three new elements, according to Chris Metress, author of “The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative,” has thrived through the decades.
In his story, which was compiled from a series of interviews with Milam and Bryant, Huie wrote Till had a picture of a white girl in his wallet bragging she was his girlfriend, Till was dared by cousins to ask Carolyn Bryant, Roy Bryant's wife, for a date and Till was killed for his defiance when asked by the brothers to deny he had a white girlfriend.
Metress, a Stamford University English professor, called this account the “dare-defiance narrative” as he spoke to an audience of about 60 people Thursday night during the second installment of a lecture series at the Columbus Public Library as part of the Emmett Till Traveling Exhibit.
‘Needed to be killed'
“Milam and Bryant's confession served to do two things - one, to make Emmett Till look like he needed to be killed by sexualizing him and all that,” he said. “And two, to cover the tracks of the other men involved.”
There were at least two other white men involved, Metress theorized, along with the three black men employed by Bryant, who were taken along to help in the killing and to clean up.
Most no longer accept the defiance aspect, said Metress, but the photo and the dare have become facts in the minds of many.
Till's own cousin, Curtis Jones, was filmed on the 1986 documentary “Eyes on the Prize” saying Till was dared to go into the store. Jones, said Metress, was not even in Mississippi at the time; he'd gotten the story from Huie.
In John Edgar Wideman's 1997 narrative, “The Killing of Black Boys,” he depicts Till as a magician, entertaining his friends, pulling the photo of a white girl from his wallet and then going into the store to perform his next act, asking a white woman on a date and then wolf whistling at her.
Five years later, Till's mother would introduce a fictional play to the world recreating the tragedy. In the play, noted Metress, Till again is said to have had a picture of a white woman in his wallet. Wallets in those days came with photos of movie stars in them, Till-Mobley maintained. And the play said he was, indeed, dared by cousins to talk to Carolyn Bryant.
Those two aspects of Huie's stories have remained mainstays in today's study of the case.
(Photo: Mamie Bradley at the funeral of her son, Emmett Till, in 1955