The Murder of Emmett Till
The Murder of Emmett Till
From Home, Marilynne Robinson
By Luciana Rosa, Dec. 2020
“"Emmett Till, Wasn't he the Negro fellow that - attacked the white woman?"
Jack said, "He was a kid. He was fourteen. Somebody said he whistled at a white woman."
His father said, “I think there must have been more to it, Jack. As I remember, he was executed. There was a trial.”
Jack said, “There was no trial. He was murdered. He was a child, and they murdered him.” "
This is really gruesome. A black 14-year-old was brutally murdered in 1955 in Mississippi.
Emmett was from Chicago and was visiting family in Money, Mississippi. He was outside a grocery store with his cousin and friends, bragging that he had a white girlfriend in his hometown (probably as a joke, he liked to make people laugh). His cousin and friends doubted him, and dared him to ask the white lady, who was behind the counter inside the store, on a date.
Emmett entered the store, bought some candy, and said "Bye, baby" to the lady - her name was Carolyn Bryant. She also falsely alleged that he grabbed her and wolf-whistled at her on his way out.
What happened next is unbelievably horrid and macabre.
Rob Bryant, the husband of Carolyn, arrived back in town a few days later after a business trip and got very mad when he heard the story. He, together with his half-brother J.W. Mylam, drove to the house of the uncle of the boy. They then demanded to see the boy and took them into their car, despite the protest of the boy's uncle.
The two men drove around with Emmett, probably beating him on the way, and brought the boy to the Tallahatcher River. They then beat Emmett, shot him, tied him to a 35kg fan with barbed wire and through the body in the river.
The body of Emmett was found 3 days later, heavily disfigured. His mother, Mamie Bradley, demanded that the body of Emmett would be transferred to Chicago for the burial. During the funeral, Mamie let the casket open so everyone could see how brutal the murder was. A local magazine published the photo and soon it was national news.
Two weeks later, Bryant and Mylam was brought to a tribunal, but the 2 white men were declared "not guilty" of both murder and kidnap.
This case was an early impetus of the civil rights movement
This story really shocked me. I can't imagine living in a place so dangerous for a 14-year-old, or how devastating it was for his family. And to think that after 65 years it is still dangerous to be a black teenager in many places around the world.
Although this was hard to read, I do appreciate that Marilynne Robinson mentioned it in her book.
"“[...] Still, parents have a responsibility.”
“They bring children into a dangerous world, and they should do what they have to do to keep them safe.”
Jack cleared his throat. “But they can’t always — they might really want to. It’s very hard. It’s complicated—” He laughed.
“So you know some colored people, there in St. Louis.”
“Yes. They’ve been kind to me.”"
― Home, by Marilynne Robinson