As the civil rights movement and Brown vs. Board of Education was blatantly being ignored in most of Mississippi, the decision to send a young Chicago boy who needed structure to the South was made by his widowed mother, Mamie Till. Unaware of the depth of racism and Jim Crow in the South, 14-year-old Emmett Till arrived in Money, Mississippi on August 20, 1955 to stay with his great uncle, Moses Wright. After a day of picking cotton, Till accompanied a group of youngsters to Bryant’s grocery to buy candy and cold drinks.
The playback of what happened inside the local store between Till and the store owner’s wife, Carolyn Bryant, has varied. Some believe Till whistled at Bryant, while she claimed that the 14-year old approached and touched her, while making sexually suggestive comments. The story is unclear as to what actually happened, but other children with Till claimed he had bragged about having a white girlfriend back in Chicago.
News of what had happened spread fast. The first and fatal reaction was from Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant. On August 28, 1955, Till was kidnapped and brutally murdered by Roy Bryant and his accomplice John Milam. The men viciously beat and shot the young boy in the head. They were said to have had an African-American accomplice, whose identity was assumed but not confirmed.
Till’s body was found three days later at the Tallahatchie River in the neighboring town of Glendora, with a metal fan attached to his neck by barbed wire. The ring he was still wearing, gifted to him by his mother, bearing his father’s initials, identified him as the missing 14-year old boy. The tragedy was said to have sparked the civil rights movement in America.
Ironically, the Rosa Parks bus incident occurred exactly 100 days after Till’s murder.
Till’s killers were arrested on kidnapping charges and eventually acquitted. News of Till’s murder spread internationally after a gruesome photo of his battered and mutilated body was published on the cover of Jet Magazine. Mamie Till wanted the vision of her son to resonate with the community as an example of pure hatred and racism so she ordered an open casket funeral. The lives of Roy Bryant and John Milam, along with Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, who had already lost her husband in the war, were never the same.
In a January 24, 1956 article, Look magazine published a story written by William Bradford Huie called, "The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi." Huie paid Roy Bryant and John Milam $4,000 for their story on how they killed Till. In a follow-up one year later, both men had lost their businesses (which had served the local black community) and were shunned by their white counterparts.
John Milam died in 1980 from cancer and Roy Bryant died ten years later, also of cancer.
Even today, there is still mystery behind Till’s murder, with unanswered questions about the accomplices and the trial.
A new voice and face has been given to Till in the upcoming docudrama entitled, “55 Till Now,” coming to theaters this November. The film, Directed by DeShaun Davis of DD8 & Company Films, stars Jonah Lampkin as Emmett Till and Erica L.Taylor as Madison Page, an investigative researcher looking for the answers of Till’s murder. The film includes the discussion of race relations in America with celebrity commentary.
Watch trailer below.
For more information on the film “55TillNow” go to www.55tillnow.com
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