Emmett Till Has to Die: Why the Movie Till Is an Important Story to Tell.
By Kenneth R. Jenkins
A 14-year-old African American boy was abducted, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in a segregated 1955. Why was this 14-year-old being badly murdered? Very simple, being accused of offending a white woman, Carolyn Bryant in her family grocery store. This murder along with the facts that this 14-year-old African American was murdered in the first place and that young man was Emmett Till.
Emmett Till was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and so, during the summer of 1955, Emmett went to visit relatives in a small-town Money, Mississippi that is in the Mississippi Delta region.
Now, the story has been debated over and over again of the events that took place. Emmett spoke to then 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, who is a white, married proprietor of a small grocery store. There have sorted theories on what happened.
Till was accused of flirting with, touching or whistling at Bryant. The interaction caused with Bryant perhaps unwittingly violated an unwritten code of behavior for any black male interaction with a female of the Jim Crow-era South.
Several nights after the incident in the store, Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother J.W. Millan, who were armed going to Till’s great-uncle’s house and abducted Emmett taking away beating, mutilated him before shooting him in the head then sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River then Emmett’s body was found bloated body was discovered and retrieved from the river.
The 14-year-old’s body was returned to Chicago where his mother, Mamie Till, insisted that her son’s body to be seen in a public view during the funeral service in an opened casket that was held at Temple Church of God in Christ. The reason for the open casket according to Emmett’s mother, the open-coffin funeral to expose the world to more than her son Emmett Till’s bloated, mutilated body. It was her decision to mainly focused their attention on not only U.S. racism and barbarism of lynching but also limitation and vulnerabilities of American democracy.
The first time learned about this story was when I was very young looking at a picture of him in an open casket in Jet Magazine. The sight of it is just something I wouldn’t wish on any mother for their child. Remember, this happened in 1955 during the Jim Crow South; exactly 6 years before I was born in 1961 and my parents were about or a little older than Emmett during that time living in Georgia.
The trial itself was a farce as an all-white jury finding Milan not guilty of Till’s murder and was protected against double jeopardy. A year later, they admitted on that they murdered the 14-year-old negro boy and then later during an interview with Look Magazine after selling their story for $4,000.
Here’s a quote from the interview from that story: Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers — in their place — I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you — just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.’
— J. W. Milam, Look magazine, 1956
Jim Crow South during that time was dangerous to live especially during a time when Black lives really didn’t matter especially to the whites there. Lynching a black man was the norm then and it was a law made by white men who was tainted with hate.
That is why on March 29, 2022. President Joe Biden signed into a federal law The Emmett Till Antilynching Act making into a federal hate crime.
October 2022, once again Emmett Till’s story is retold in the latest movie release “Till”. This is indeed a very important piece of work to tell his story and see the close connection between Emmett and his mother. Already, there is Oscar buzz for this movie in next year's Oscars perhaps which remain to be seen.
In the meantime, this story is needed to be told in order to educate and have conversations about race hate crimes then and now. How important to engage in healthy dialogue about it even what went on then and look at it again in 2022.
Emmett Till’s story will not be forgotten because the race hate crimes are still alive and well in America even in the 21st Century but the question remains, how many people will wake up realizing that the nightmare of crimes such as these are not over…. think about it.
Kenneth R. Jenkins is a freelance writer, poet, podcast producer/host, minister, author, devoted husband living in Savannah, GA.