May 19, 2018


Black History Month - A Brutal Murder By Jack Coll

A Brutal Murder
Emmett Till was just 14 Years Old
By Jack Coll

When it comes to music Bob Dylan was one of my childhood heroes. In a world before internet and schools that only taught you reading, writing and arithmetic we got our street education from the songs we listened to. There were songs we listened to on the radio and songs that we could only hear if we bought the album and dropped the needle on the turntable. Songs played on the radio, well, you had to listen to the lyrics and read in-between the lines. (What did you think the songs “White Rabbit” and “Kicks” were about? And how about the Beatles singing “Day Tripper,” (I bet your parents never picked up on that one.) But if you bought the album, the lyrics spelled it out for you.
Dylan’s songs always had a message, or a “meaning,” and nothing was off limits in his songs. Dylan had a great mind on picking up on social injustices and wrote countless songs pertaining to civil rights.
As a young man living in Minnesota back in 1955 Dylan remembered hearing about a 14 year old black kid getting murdered in Mississippi, in 1962 he wrote the song, “The Death of Emmett Till” and it starts out like this:

“Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago
When a young boy from Chicago town
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 Emmitt Till

Emmett Till, grew up in a thriving middle-class black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The neighborhood was a haven for black-owned businesses, and the streets he roamed as a child were filled with nightclubs that drew performers like Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan. Those who knew Till described him as a responsible, funny and infectiously high-spirited kid who always had a suitcase full of jokes.
Emmett Till’s mother Mamie, was an extraordinary woman. Defying the social constraints and discrimination she faced as an African-American woman growing up in the 1920’s, Mamie Till excelled both academically and professionally. She was only the fourth black student to graduate from suburban Chicago’s predominantly white Argo Community High School and first black student to make the school’s “A” Honor Roll. While raising Emmett as a single mother, she worked long hours for the Air Force as a clerk in charge of secret and confidential files.
While his mother worked more that 12-hour days, Emmett took on his full share of domestic responsibilities from a very young age. He mother recalled, “Emmett had all the house responsibility. I mean everything was really on his shoulders. He told me if I would work, and make the money, he would take care of everything else.”
In the summer of 1955, after much conversation with his mother Emmett took a ride with his great uncle Moses Wright who had visited from Mississippi along with his cousin Wheeler Parker back to Mississippi to visit other relatives. Emmett’s mother wanted him to take a summer trip to Omaha, Nebraska to enjoy the open road and she was gonna teach him to drive a car. The fateful decision to allow Emmett to go to Mississippi would have a grave impact on their lives and the course of American history.
On August 20, 1955, Mamie drove her son to the 63rd Street train station in Chicago. They kissed goodbye, and young Till boarded a southbound train headed for Mississippi. It was the last time they ever saw each other.
Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, on August 24, 1955, Emmett Till and a group of teenagers entered Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to buy refreshments after a long day picking cotton in the hot afternoon sun. What exactly transpired inside the grocery store that afternoon will never be known. Till purchased bubble gum, and some of the kids with him would later report that he whistled at, flirted with, or touched the hand of the store’s female clerk, and wife of the owner Carolyn Bryant.
Four days later in the early morning hours of August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother J. W. Milam kidnapped Till from Moses Wright’s home. They then beat the teenager, dragged him to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head, did unthinkable things to his body, (too graphic to mention in this column) and while he was still breathing shoved his body into the river.
Moses Wright reported Till’s disappearance to local authorities, and three days later his mutilated corpse was pulled out of the river, his face was mutilated beyond recognition.
Emmitt’s body was shipped to Chicago where his mother opted to have an open-casket funeral with young Till’s body on display for five days. Thousands of people came to Roberts Temple Church of God to see the brutal evidence of the brutal hate crime.
Till’s mother Mamie said at the time, despite the enormous pain it caused her to see her son’s dead body on display, she opted for an open casket funeral to “let the world see what has happened, because there is no way I could describe this. And I needed somebody to help me see and understand what it was like.”
In the week’s following the burial arrest for the murder and kidnapping of Emmitt was underway having arrested Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam. Two black publications back in the 1950’s, Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender, published graphic images of Till’s corpse. By the time the trial commenced on September 19, 1955 Emmett Till’s murder had become a source of outrage and indignation throughout much of the country.
Because blacks and women were barred from serving jury duty, Bryant and Milam were tried before an all-white, all-male jury. Moses White, a black man took the stand, and in effect put his own life at risk, by pointing out Bryant and Milam as Till’s kidnappers and killers. It was almost unheard of for blacks to openly accuse whites in a court.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt and widespread pleas for justice from outside Mississippi, on September 23 the panel of white male jurors acquitted Bryant and Milam of all charges. Their deliberations lasted a mere 67 minutes.
In January 1956, just four months after the trial Bryant and Milam admitted to committing the murders. Protected by double jeopardy laws, they sold their whole story of how they kidnapped and killed Emmett Till to “Look” magazine for $4,000, each.
Reaction to the Look Magazine interview was explosive. Their brazen admission that they had slain Till caused prominent civil rights leaders to push federal government harder to investigate the case. Till’s murder was one of several reasons the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed, it allowed the United States Department of Justice to intervene in local law enforcement issues when civil rights were being compromised.
After Bryant and Milam admitted to Look Magazine that they had killed Till, their support in Mississippi eroded. Many of their former friends and supporters, including those who had contributed to their defense funds, cut them off. Their shops went bankrupt and closed after blacks boycotted them. The banks refused to grant them loans to plant crops. After struggling to secure a loan and find someone who would rent to him, Milam managed to secure 217 acres and a $4,000 loan to plant cotton, but blacks refused to work for him. He was forced to pay whites higher wages. Eventually Milam and Bryant relocated to Texas, but their infamy followed them and they continued to generate animosity from locals.
Over the years Milam was tried for offenses such as assault and battery, writing bad checks, and using stolen credit cards. He died of spinal cancer in 1980 at the age of 61.
Bryant worked as a welder while in Texas, until increasing blindness forced him to give up his employment. At some point, he and Carolyn divorced, he remarried in 1980. He opened a store in Ruleville, Mississippi, and was convicted in 1984 and 1988 of food stamp fraud. In a 1985 interview he denied that he had killed Till but said, “If Emmett Till hadn’t gotten out of line, it probably wouldn’t have happened to him.”
During a 2007 interview Carolyn Bryant Donham at the age of 72 disclosed that she had fabricated the most dramatic part of her testimony. Regarding her claim that Till had grabbed and verbally harassed her, Bryant said, “That part’s not true.”
Till’s death provided an important catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement. Three months after Till’s death, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama city bus, sparking the year-long Montgomery bus boycott.

Seven years after Till’s murder a twenty one year old Bob Dylan penned the song, “The Death of Emmett Till” in 1962. Dylan by this time had the ears of a younger, bolder generation throughout the country. It was this generation that Dylan was speaking to, who would have the most impact on the Civil Rights movement over the next decade.

The Death of Emmitt Till
‘Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago
When a young boy from Chicago town
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 Emmitt Till

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 were screaming sounds inside the barn
There was laughing sounds out on the street

Then they rolled his body down a gulf
Amidst a bloody 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 killin’ him
And to watch him slowly die

And then to stop the United States
Of yelling for a trial
Two brothers, they confessed
That they had killed poor Emmitt 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 there seemed to mind

I saw the morning papers
But I could not bear to see
To see smiling brothers
Walkin’ 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

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing
A crime that’s so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead man’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 let this human race
Fall down so God-awful low

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 gave all we could give
We could make this land of ours
A greater p lace to live

Editors Note: Much of this information pertaining to this article came from Wikipedia and Black History –History . com. At times in an effort to bring you this story and information some paragraphs were copied word-for-word.
Thank you for your interest in Black History

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