Sixty-Seven Years Ago …

This is a repeat of a post I published on this date last year.  With all the efforts by certain states to whitewash the history of this nation, or to simply refrain from teaching our next generation about the history of the nation they live in, I think it is more important than ever before to be reminded of some parts of our past.  Disturbing?  Hell yes!  But it happened and to ignore it is a crime … one that will have serious consequences in the future.  And so, please bear with me as I tell you the story of Emmett Till once again …

It was sixty-seven 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.

24 thoughts on “Sixty-Seven Years Ago …

  1. I remember your retelling of this terrible story last year, and it doesn’t improve with age. It seems as though parts of the US haven’t moved on from this at all, or are trying to return there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were new developments this year that make it even more maddening. The shopkeeper’s wife who falsely accused Emmett of flirting with her is still alive, and it was recently discovered that a warrant for her arrest had been issued all those many years ago, but never served. Many of us wanted it served now, wanted her to go to trial and be forced to tell the truth, but the Court decided that no purpose would be served. Perhaps they are right, but this woman has lived free all those 67 years while Emmett’s mother was a prisoner of her grief. Ahhhhh … white privilege. Racism is still alive and well in this country.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Jill. I have not heard about this story and it is upsetting and infuriating.

    You gotta wonder what the opponents of Critical Race Theory object to eh? It’s important that history does not repeat itself and in order for that to happen, we must continue to shed light on these awful moments in history and hopefully we learn from them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was such big news at the time, and in the decades since, that I’m surprised you guys didn’t hear of it. We have many tragic stories in our history, but to me, this was the very worst one of them all. And recently, it was discovered that a warrant had been issued for the shopkeeper’s wife back in the day, but the warrant was never served. Since she is still alive, advocacy groups tried to bring her to trial now, but it was shot down. I will have more about that in a later post, though. I thought we, as a nation, had learned from this and so many other brutal murders in the Jim Crow south, but … apparently not. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You say: 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.

    Anything can happen at any time, but I think that is not what you meant with this comment. What gives you this impression that such events can happen again and why only in Southern states?

    The kinds of actions that were common place 60 years ago in the South are as far removed from today’s reality as anything. They are two different worlds. I grew up and went to school in the South in the 1970s. That world is so different than what my father experienced 20 years earlier when he first came to the South. Why do you compare the two and say we are on the brink of falling back in? I don’t see that at all.

    You follow up your first statement with a comment on CRT. The problem with CRT is simple: it’s a racist ideology. We don’t want it because it takes us back to the racist past as you say. Ibrahim X Kendi is a professor at Boston University and one of the leading advocates of CRT. Dr. Kendi believes we solve the racism of the past with more racism today. That’s unacceptable. That will only lead to more racism in the future as people try to fix the problems created by racist policies today. Dr. Kendi can’t define the term racism without using the word “racism” in his definition. This is circular logic and sound thinking. I see such thinking as his as the problem.

    The US was founded on grand ideas, ideas that failed to be fully manifested but have been a beacon of hope for many throughout our history. Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, MLK, and so many others believed in these principles and they eventually were fulfilled over time. Please don’t simplify our views of the past as naïve and ignorant because we don’t see the same problems today as you do.


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    • I’m always amazed to realize that outside the U.S., many have not heard the story of Emmett Till! And there’s more … stay tuned in a later post for that! Do you have a substantial Black population in Germany, and if so, are they treated the same as whites, or is there any degree of racism? xx


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