Sixty-Six Years Ago …

It was sixty-six years ago today that a 14-year-old boy, Emmett Till, was brutally murdered for the crime of being Black in a town called Money, Mississippi.  You all know the story, but allow me to just quickly refresh your memories …

Emmett was from ‘up north’ in Chicago, but his mother had sent him to Mississippi to spend the final two weeks of summer with his beloved grandfather before returning to school.  One day he went into a small store to buy some candy and as the cashier returned his change, his hand accidentally and briefly touched hers.  That, my friends, was all it took to get this young man killed.

By the time the story had been spread and embellished on, it was said that he caressed the clerk … a woman much older than Emmett who he would likely have seen as being the age of his own mother … had wolf-whistled and flirted with her.  While none of these are crimes, more importantly, he did none of the above as witnesses would later recall.  But this was Mississippi in the 1950s, the Jim Crow era.

Long story short, his assailants—the white woman’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, John Milam—dragged young Emmett from his grandfather’s home and made him carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head and then threw his body, tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.

In September a trial was held for the two murderers and on September 23, the all-white, all-male jury deliberated 67 minutes before acquitting Bryant and Milam. Jurors later admitted in interviews that although they knew Bryant and Milam were guilty of Till’s murder, they did not think imprisonment or the death penalty were appropriate punishments for white men who had killed a black man.  The white woman, Carolyn Bryant, later recanted her testimony.

Why do I rehash this story today?  This is one of thousands of tragic stories from that era, but it is one that has received the most attention, one that we can point to and say, “That is who we used to be.”  Or … can we?  I have fairly recently come to believe that it is still who some of us are today.  I don’t think it’s a long stretch of the imagination to think of a similar atrocity happening in 21st Century Mississippi … or Alabama … Louisiana … Texas.

This is why we MUST teach about Emmett Till and the others in our schools today.  We must open the eyes of our young people to the past in order to ensure we don’t repeat that sordid past.  Just a few weeks ago, before Afghanistan took the spotlight, there was a big brouhaha about teaching ‘Critical Race Theory’ in the schools.  There is an element of our society who would have future generations believe that the U.S. was founded only on compassion and altruism, that the nation’s history is all rosy and beautiful.  It isn’t.

Every single schoolchild by the age of 12 should be aware of the story of Emmett Till, as well as Thomas Moss, Will Stewart, Calvin McDowell and thousands of others. Don’t recognize those names?  Look them up!  Some 6,500 Black people were lynched in the United States between 1865 and 1950 – and that’s only the ones we know about.  No, this is not the ‘pretty’ part of our history BUT … it IS part of our history, part of what has made this nation what it is today.  To hide it, to sweep it under the carpet, is criminal and ultimately will lead us right back to that dirty, dark place of the Jim Crow era.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back there.

21 thoughts on “Sixty-Six Years Ago …

    • Thank you so much for the re-blog, my friend! And you are spot on … if we are allowed to forget where we came from, we will eventually repeat the same mistakes and go right back there. This is too much an important part of our history to simply sweep it under the rug!

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    • There will always be certain people to whom something like this must seem a National Sport. They are usually bthe cowards who wear sheets to hide their identityso they vcan’t be tried for what they know is a crime.As yyou know, there were so many lynchings, the term strange fruit was thought up to dwscribe the unnatural fruiut hanging from branches. It must have been more lynchings than that though as some then, as some have been known as in recent years been called suicides by hanging rather than look for a guilty party.These people all lack the things that makes them human, compassion and a conscience. They are just sure that White is Right and are so uneducated ewnough to understand that the skin colour difference doewsn’t make black people less human, it’s nothing more than skin pigmentation to allow for rge different amounts of hot sunlight our people have had to cope with.
      Cwtch

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes, they wear sheets and operate under the cover of darkness … and they still exist today. And as re lynchings … can somebody tell me why the hell we’ve been trying for decades to get Congress to pass an anti-lynching bill and as yet they haven’t felt strongly enough to do so??? When I learned tonight that Carolyn Bryant, the woman who falsely accused Emmett Till, still lives and complains that this ‘changed her life’ … I wanted to find her and bash her face in until it looked like poor Emmett’s! I guess maybe I’m no better than any, eh? I’m actually ashamed to have lighter skin … I wish I had been born Black. Sigh.
        Cwtch

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    • Thanks, Carolyn!!! This is a pet peeve for me, especially when I hear white people saying it should not be taught in the schools! WHY NOT? So we can simply forget the horrors that are a large part of this nation’s history? Sigh. Starting to feel better … finally! Slow go, but then, I am 70 now! 😉

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    • Yes, but even those would not have helped in Emmett Till’s case, for it was done by civilians under the cover of darkness. Carolyn Bryant still lives today, I discovered, and complains to any who will listen how this changed her life for the worse. Are we to feel empathy for that bitch??? I think not!

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  1. Jill, as well as you wrote about this horrible story, it is actually even more horrific when heard from a docent at the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum. It was chilling to hear and made me ashamed that humans could be so evil to another. His mother made Life take photos of his abused and denigrated body for its magazine. She wanted the world to see what two white adult men did to her adolescent boy. And, the fact they were acquitted is a further stain on humanity. If we don’t teach the Emmett Till tragedies, then we are whitewashing history. The adrift Republican Party honors no one with this racist BS and they certainly are catering to a crowd that needs to learn about our atrocious behavior more than anyone. Keith

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    • I can only imagine … I know I would be in tears the entire time. Last week I read “The Untold Emmett Till Murder” and it kept me awake more than one night. The woman who caused all of this still lives … it seems so grossly unfair. She whines that it changed her life … GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. It is this and so many other very personal stories that MUST be taught in our schools! We cannot allow future generations to grow up without the knowledge of what has been done to so many in this country in the name of “white supremacy” that still exists today.

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    • It was/is horrible. I recently read a book about it … the third such I have read … and it kept me awake more than one night. It is heartbreaking, and to try to sweep it under the rug is simply unethical. This is who we are … a nation built on slavery, racism, misogyny, and other forms of cruelty. I, for one, am not proud of this country … not one bit.

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