Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Death of Emmett Till

By Bluebear2

Emmett Louis Till is born July 25th, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois to Mamie and Louis Till. The following year his parents separate, and shortly after, his father is drafted to serve in World War II. In 1945, Emmett’s mother learns that Louis has been killed in Europe. She receives very little of his effects beyond his monogrammed signet ring.

Segregation in the south is rampant and the states are functioning under the “Separate-But-Equal” Doctrine, which dates back to 1896. The influences of the Ku Klux Klan and the Dixiecrats are growing stronger, fighting hard to maintain the status quo. Since 1882, over 500 blacks have been killed in racially-motivated lynchings. Other race crimes are also on the rise. On May 17th, 1954, the Supreme Court, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education orders that public schools must desegregate. This raises the ire of the various white supremacy groups in the South, particularly in the Delta.

During this time the Citizen’s Councils begin to spring up, first in Mississippi, then spreading through the southern states. These councils are formed of the white wealthy business owners and grow to encompass most of the white-owned businesses in the South. Considering themselves a step above the Ku Klux Klan, they vow to fight Brown and desegregation.

'Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago,
When a young boy from Chicago stepped through a Southern door.
This boy's dreadful tragedy I can still remember well,
The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till.

In August of 1955, 14-year-old Emmett is excited to take the train ride to his uncle’s house on the outskirts of Money, Mississippi. The day before he leaves, his mother gives him the ring once worn by his father. On August 20th, Emmett boards a train with his cousin Curtis Jones and heads south to Money, arriving the following day at his uncle Moses Wright’s house.

Three days later, Emmett and Curtis take their uncle’s car into Money, going to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to buy some candy. The store is owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, a white couple. It caters to the needs of the black sharecroppers and their children. Meeting a group of local children, Emmett shows them some pictures of friends in Chicago, including a white girl. Some in the group of the kids dare him to talk to Carolyn Bryant, saying how he must know how to talk to white girls.

Although he is aware of segregation and prejudice in Chicago, Emmett is unaware of how extreme it is here in Mississippi. What happens next is in dispute, but on the way out, he either speaks to her or whistles at her. According to his mother Emmett stuttered some and when he couldn’t get a word out he would whistle.

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up.
They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what.
They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat.
There was screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds out on the street.

At about 2:30 a.m., August 28th, Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam knock on Moses Wright’s front door with pistol and flashlight in hand. Asking where the boys are, they are directed to the room where the boys are sleeping. Emmett’s uncle pleads for them to only whip Emmett, but instead they take him away into the night.

Taking Emmett to Milam’s barn, they proceed to beat him with a .45 pistol, but Emmett is unrepentant. Willie Reed testified later that he had heard screaming in the barn, but was confronted by Milam coming out of the barn with a pistol on his hip. Milam asked Willie if he'd seen anything. Naturally, Willie's response was, "No."

Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a blood red rain
And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain.
The reason that they killed him there, and I'm sure it ain’t no lie,
Was just for the fun of killing him and to watch him slowly die.

When Emmett refused to repent, they decided to make an example of him. Throwing him into the back of a truck, they take him down to the Tallahatchie River. Standing on the bank of the river, hurling insults at him, they force him to strip. Then shoot him in the head. They tie a heavy fan from a cotton gin around his neck with barbed wire and throw him into the river.

The next day Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam are picked up on a charge of kidnapping, and held without bond in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Three days later, Emmett’s decomposing body is pulled from the river and identified by his uncle Moses, solely by the signet ring that once belonged to his father. Emmett’s right eye is missing, there is a hole in the side of his head, his nose is broken and his face is mutilated beyond recognition. The next day, Mississippi Governor, Hugh White orders a full prosecution of the men.

And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial,
Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till.
But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this awful crime,
And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody seemed to mind.

The story of Emmett’s murder is starting to get out even in the world press where it is being described as a lynching and an example of the brutal racism in America. Emmett’s mother decides to give him an open casket funeral to emphasize this point, show the brutality of the people who had done this. Some 50,000 people from around the country attend the funeral.

On September 6th, a Mississippi Grand Jury indicts Bryant and Milam on kidnapping and murder charges. But Bryant and Milam work to get support from the white folks in town and the community soon claims they are innocent and chip in to pay for their defense. Finding witnesses for the prosecution is difficult since everyone is afraid of the repercussions if they testify. Willie Reed and Moses Wright are among the few who step forward to testify. Jury selection is held quickly. Blacks and women are forbidden from being on the jury, so it is composed of 12 white men, mostly farmers.

The trial begins on September 19th, but is recessed by the judge on the 20th to allow the prosecution time to find more witnesses. Starting again on the 21st, Emmett’s uncle Moses stands before the court and, pointing his finger, accuses Bryant and Milam of killing Emmett Till. Willie Reed also testifies to what he heard in the barn that night. After testifying, Moses and Willie are smuggled off to Chicago for their protection. Willie later suffers a nervous breakdown over the whole affair. The defense argues that the body was not that of Emmett Till and that Emmett was actually hiding in Chicago.

I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see
The smiling brothers walking down the courthouse stairs.
For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free,
While Emmett's body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea.

On September 23rd, after deliberating for 67 minutes, including time to get soft drinks, the jury returns acquittals for both Bryant and Milam on the murder charges. A week later they are both released on bond. Within days the world press is condemning the acquittal, and within a month, the American Jewish Committee releases a report urging Congress to bolster Federal civil rights legislation based in part on the articles on this case from the foreign press. On November 9th, Moses Wright and Willie Reed return for the last time to testify before the grand jury. However the grand jury refuses to file an indictment on the kidnapping charges. Bryant and Milam are set free.

The confessions of Bryant and Milam, for which they are paid $4,000, are published less than three months later by Look magazine, yet neither man ever faces any additional charges. Their businesses are ruined, though, since blacks would no longer do business with them, and most whites took to shunning them. Both men have since died of cancer, Milam in 1980, and Bryant ten years later.

If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt; your mind is filled with dust.
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow,
For you'd let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

World attention had now been brought to the plight of the black man in the United States.

The Federal Government was pressured to do something about the situation. The blacks in the North, who had been complacent about happenings in the South, suddenly realized how it also affected them. This was the beginning of the civil rights movement in America. Only 100 days later, Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. The movement began taking shape with the 381-day Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that had been started by Rosa’s simple act of strength. Much more would follow.

Keith Beauchamp spent nine years researching the Emmett Till case for a movie he was to film, titled The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. Based on evidence Beauchamp found, the Justice Department reopened the investigation into Emmett’s murder, and Emmett’s body was exhumed. Some evidence has leaked to the press, including the facts that bullet fragments were found and DNA samples were a match for Emmett Till. On May 17th, 2005, it was announced that the FBI had found a copy of the trial transcripts, long thought to have been lost. The investigation is ongoing. Unfortunately, Mamie Till Mobley died in 2003 and won’t be able to see the results of this new investigation.

On September 14th, 2005, the U.S. Senate passed the Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act which formed a new federal unit within the Justice Department to investigate old Civil Rights cases. The bill was spearheaded by Alvin Sykes, president of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, US Senator Charles E. Schumer and US Representative Charles B. Rangel

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan.
But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we give all we could give,
We'd make this great land of ours a greater place to live.

Bob Dylan The Ballad of Emmett Till
Copyright © 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music

Democracy Now - Audio of Dylan Performing the Song
Democracy Now – Video of Dylan Performing the Song
(Pick your connection speed.) (WARNING video contains graphic and disturbing photos of Emmett's wounds.)

Resources: – Dixiecrats – The Murder of Emmett Till, American Experience - The Murder of Emmett Till
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till – A film by Keith Beauchamp
Bob Dylan,com

1 comment:

  1. That was wrong what the two men had done to Emmett Till, he was just a young boy who didnt know the consiquences .. Whites are the same today but worser and i just wish They will Stop and look at what they have done >>