Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Emmet Till: A story America must not forget




Emmett Till was a 14 year old youngster from Chicago who was heinously lynched by the hands of racists in the summer on August 29, 1954 in Mississippi.

While many things have changed along racial lines I believe there’s still work to do.

The climate for African Americans was less than ideal in 1955. King was beginning to ascend to prominence and Rosa Parks hadn’t yet refused to go to the back of the bus. Malcolm X was only three years removed from prison as a young minister in the Nation of Islam.

Racial tensions were extremely high in the south. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in favor Brown vs. Board of Education thereby legally integrating schools in the south.

The state where Till was slaughtered, Mississippi, was arguably the most racist of all southern states. To my amazement during the Jim Crow Era until the mid-1960’s no white person ever served jail time for killing an African American.

While northern states weren’t exempt from racism the depth of oppression wasn’t like that which African Americans endured in the south.

In Mississippi Till found himself in a world much different than he was accustomed to. Till arrived in Jackson, Missippi on August 21, 1955 as a handsome youngster to visit with family: he would depart a shadow of himself Mississipi in a box a murdered at the hands of racists.

Three days after Till’s arrival in Mississippi he was with several teenagers all of which were under 16 years of age. At least two of Till’s co-horts were sons of local sharecroppers. They’d been picking cotton all day so they decided to go to the town market for candy and soda.

The store Till entered was owned by Carolyn and Roy Bryant. Before entering the store Till was displaying photos of his white friends from Chicago: one of them being a white girl he claimed to date. The teens didn’t believe Till dated a white girl: given the racial tension in Mississipi the teens found the notion hard to believe.


After displaying the photos at least one of the teens dared Till to talk to a white girl working at the grocery. Till alledgedly whistled at storekeeper Carolyn Bryant upon leaving the store and said “bye baby.”


Three days had elapsed without incident but during this time the word of Till’s actions spread all over Tallahatchie county.


Robert Bryant, the wife of the woman Till whistled at, and Bryant’s half brother J.W. Milam, took matters into their own hands. Bryant stated they were going to “teach the boy a lesson.”
At approximately 2:30 am August 29th Bryant, Milam and two others who weren’t identified kidnapped, Till from his great uncles home. Till was forced out of bed and driven in a pickup truck to nearby plantation in Sunflower County. There Till was severely beaten then shot in the head.


At 14 years old Till had met his maker.


After murdering Till Bryant and Milam hung a 75 pound cotton gin around his neck with barb-wire. Then Bryant and Milam put Till’s still body in the back of the pickup and drove around for hours before deciding to dump his body in the Tallahatchie River.


After their work was complete they got a good night’s sleep with relatives just miles away from where they dumped Till’s body.


When Till’s body was found it was severely disfigured. One of his eyes was missing and gapping hole was on the left side of his head. The only way Till could be identified was by a ring he wore.
Till’s mother didn’t want her son’s casket closed. She wanted the world to see what racists had done to her son. Jet Magazine among others ran photos of Till in his casket as more than fifty thousand people viewed his body at a Chicago funeral September 6, 1955.

The police focused on Bryant and Milam as prime suspects because of Till’s great uncle’s account of his abduction. On September 6, 1955, the day of Till’s viewing, Bryant and Milam were indicted on murder charges.

Would justice be served?

Their trial began September 19th. After 67 minutes an all white jury of 12 took 67 minutes to acquit Bryant and Milam. It would have been sooner but as one jury member stated, “"If we hadn't stopped to drink pop, it wouldn't have taken that long."

Bryant and Milam didn’t serve one day in prison for what they did to Till. Killing African Americans was no big deal in the south.

It’s called southern justice.

In 1956 Bryant and Milam were paid four thousand dollars by Look Magazine to tell their story. They admitted to journalist William Bradford Huie they’d murdered Till. No further charges could be brought against them as they were protected by the double jeorpady law and Jim Crow.

Article one, Section Two, Paragraph three of the Constitution classified African Americans as 3/5ths of a person.

Didn’t it?

How can beings that weren’t considered full humans get equitable treatment in a court system court system controlled by whites?

Slavery set the latter precedent for racism to endure in America. Economically were slaves who labored for free. Politically didn’t they have any power, socially they were disenfranchised and forced to live like animals.

Justice typically favors those who create the rules. This case set the stage for what we have today in the way of inequitable justice in the court system and beyond.

The Emmett Till murder showcases how African Americans were treated in society ayet today African Americans are still often recipients of inequitable justice.

Let me break down what I mean by “white America.” Those whites who constructed, sustained, and endorsed racism that’s white America. Those whites who have benefited from the seeds of racism who refuse to acknowledge truth that’s white America.

In short, anyone who endorses the overall oppression of African Americans and any other group that derives a benefit from doing so that’s white America.

January 18th I wrote a column on Tiger Woods when golf announcer Kelly Tilghman suggested Tiger should be “lynched in a back alley.” What Bryant and Milam did to Emmet Till in Mississippi is what Tilghman suggested PGA players should do to Tiger to curtail his dominance.


To me it’s another way of calling him a nigger and he shouldn’t dare step outside his boundaries.


February 19th conservative Bill O’Reilly suggested he should get a “lynchmob” out on Obama’s wife for being unpatriotic. After winning the Wisconsin primary Michelle Obama stated, for the first time in a long while she’s proud to be an American.

Barack Obama said nothing and the white media mainstream kept it hush-hush.

To me silence equates to compliance.

I’d rather respect someone for keep it real and not get elected than succumb to such chicanery in his quest for presidential glory.

We as African Americans need leadership to reflect the demands of the community. We need to “let freedom ring” but can’t afford to be lulled to sleep by speeches and rhetoric. All of America needs results.

The story of Emmett Till is a powerful reminder of how things were. We must understand history to better comprehend the present. While some advances have been made along racial lines problems still persist in America. I believe it’s up to everyone to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

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