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PBS: The Murder of Emmett Till

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  • 1. Student HandoutName:________________________________________________Period:_____ The Murder of Emmett Till Applying the Bill of RightsSetting the Stage:The setting of the film is the summer and fall of 1955. Early on the morning of August 28, 1955,Emmett Till, a 14 year-old African American, was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Mississippi. Hisdeath came at a time of heightened racial tension in the South following the Brown vs. Board ofEducation decision by the Supreme Court the previous year which ended segregation. The trial andacquittal (declared not guilty) of the accused murderers galvanized (stimulated) the Civil RightsMovement and forever changed American society. http://www.facinghistory.org/resources/lessons/emmett-till-lesson-1-confronting Mamie & Emmett Till Moses Wright, Emmett’s uncle Emmett Till Roy Bryant & JW Milam 1
  • 2. 1. Why did hundreds of thousands of black Mississippians flee to Chicago between the world wars?2. How did Emmett Till’s father die?3. What disease did Emmett overcome?4. What type of boy was Emmett Till?5. What did Mamie give Emmett before he traveled to Mississippi?6. What happened to Emmett the Sunday after he “whistled” at Mrs. Bryant?7. Why did Roy Bryant consider Emmett Tills "whistle" at his wife such a grave offense?8. Were there any “bystanders” to the torture of Emmett? Why do you think Willie Reed and Warren Hampton didn’t take immediate action?9. How did Oudie Brown find out what happened to Emmett?10. If you were Oudie, what would you have down in his position? 2
  • 3. 11. Why did Emmett’s family in Mississippi search near river banks and under bridges?12. Three days after Emmett was kidnapped, his body was found. Describe the scene.13. Why did Mamie Till want an open casket funeral? Would you have made the same decision?Murder Trial -3 weeks after Emmett’s murder (approximately 32 minutes into the doc)14. Why is it ironic that Sumner, Miss’s sign stated, “A Good Place to Raise a Boy?”15. What amendment protected Milam and Bryant to right to a trial by jury? was significant about the JURY?16. What did the rule of law mean to Clarence Strider?17. What amendment protected Milam and Bryant’s right to confront the witnesses against them(i.e., Mamie Till)?18.Is Willie Reed a model of civic virtue? Explain. 3
  • 4. 19. Why did Moses Wright risk his life to testify against the killers?20. How did the jury decide the case?21. Milam and Bryant admitted to the murder of Emmett in an interview with a magazine. Since thiswas new evidence, why weren’t they put on trial again?22. What is the literal meaning of the following newspaper headline, “The life of a negro inMississippi is not worth a whistle?”23. According to the magazine interview, was Emmett still alive at the Tallahatchie River?24. Is this event an example of justice served or injustice? Explain.25. Who were the heroes in this documentary? 4
  • 5. Name:___________ANSWER KEY _______________Period:_____Name:___________ANSWERPREVIEW THIS PG WITH STUDENTS PRIOR TO VIEWING THE DOC The Murder of Emmett Till Applying the Bill of RightsSetting the Stage:The setting of the film is the summer and fall of 1955. Early on the morning of August 28, 1955,Emmett Till, a 14 year-old African American, was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Mississippi. Hisdeath came at a time of heightened racial tension in the South following the Brown vs. Board ofEducation decision by the Supreme Court the previous year which ended segregation. The trial andacquittal (declared not guilty) of the accused murderers galvanized (stimulated) the Civil RightsMovement and forever changed American society. http://www.facinghistory.org/resources/lessons/emmett-till-lesson-1-confronting Mamie & Emmett Till Moses Wright, Emmett’s uncle Emmett Till Roy Bryant & JW Milam 5
  • 6. 1. Why did hundreds of thousands of black Mississippians flee to Chicago between the world wars?Extreme racism of south; lynchings; Although, Chicago was segregated. There weremore opportunities (besides sharecropping); “could hold their head up high”2. How did Emmett Till’s father die?WWII3. What disease did Emmett overcome?Polio4. What type of boy was Emmett Till?Fun loving; natural leader5. What did Mamie give Emmett before he traveled to Mississippi?His father’s ring6. What happened to Emmett the Sunday after he “whistled” at Mrs. Bryant?He was kidnapped by Roy Bryant and JW Milam (Mrs. Bryant may have been the one thatidentified Emmett – Moses Wright “I heard a voice…”7. Why did Roy Bryant consider Emmett Tills "whistle" at his wife such a grave offense?White southerners did not trust or respect black men; black men were targets if theyeven looked at a white woman – many were lynched8. Were there any “bystanders” to the torture of Emmett? Why do you think Willie Reed and Warren Hampton didn’t take immediate action?Yes, Willie and Warren; Milam threatened Willie (had a 45 on his hip); extreme fear fortheir lives9. How did Oudie Brown find out what happened to Emmett?He witnessed “Too Tight” washing blood from JW Milam’s truck and Too Tight confirmedthat it was Emmett’s shoe10. If you were Oudie, what would you have down in his position?Answers will vary but should have support statements 6
  • 7. 11. Why did Emmett’s family in Mississippi search near river banks and under bridges?Mob justice – lynchings were common - no protection for black people in the south12. Three days after Emmett was kidnapped, his body was found. Describe the scene.He was in the Tallahatchie River weighed down with a 75 lb cotton gin fan tied to hisneck with barbed wire.13. Why did Mamie Till want an open casket funeral? Would you have made the same decision?To allow people to witness the effects of Emmett’s brutal murder that was raciallymotivated.Murder Trial -3 weeks after Emmett’s murder (approximately 32 minutes into the doc)14. Why is it ironic that Sumner, Miss’s sign stated, “A Good Place to Raise a Boy?”Students should refer back to the murder of Emmett or make the point that it is a goodplace to raise a WHITE boy…15. What amendment protected Milam and Bryant to right to a trial by jury? was significant aboutthe JURY?6th amendment; All white men16.What did the rule of law mean to Clarence Strider?Strider believed that the rule of law was only applicable to white people; it was his roleto keep black people in their place; he blamed the victims17. What amendment protected Milam and Bryant’s right to confront the witnesses against them(i.e., Mamie Till)?6th amendment 7
  • 8. 18. Is Willie Reed a model of civic virtue? Explain.Yes, he put his life on the line to testify; overcame his fear to do the right thing andtestify in open court on behalf of Emmett, yet, he suffered from a nervous breakdownafter being smuggled out of Mississippi19. Why did Moses Wright risk his life to testify against the killers?He decided that he needed to tell the truth since he was an eyewitness in the kidnappingof Emmett20. How did the jury decide the case?Acquitted the killers21. Milam and Bryant admitted to the murder of Emmett in an interview with a magazine. Since thiswas new evidence, why weren’t they put on trial again?Double jeopardy22. What is the literal meaning of the following newspaper headline, “The life of a negro inMississippi is not worth a whistle?”Black people in Mississippi had no rights; no value in their communities; black people’sbasic human rights were unprotected; the government failed them23. According to the magazine interview, was Emmett still alive at the Tallahatchie River?Yes, “the Chicago boy twisted around and caught it (bullet) right in the ear”24. Is this event an example of justice served or injustice? Explain.Answers will Vary but should contain support statements25. Who were the heroes in this documentary? 8
  • 9. Transcript http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/filmmore/pt.htmlThe Murder of Emmett TillStock footage of Tallahatchie River w/commentary: This is the muddy back woodsTallahatchie River where a weighted body was found alleged to be that of young Emmett Till.Mamie Till Mobley, Mother: I saw a hole, which I presumed, was a bullet hole and I could lookthrough that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered was it necessary to shoot him?Stock footage of commentator on the trial: Here is Money, Mississippi, the home of Roy Bryant.It was here, that the Chicago Negro boy Emmett Till is alleged to have paid unwelcome attention toRoy Bryants most attractive wife.David Lee Jordan, Mississippi State Senator: When white womens was on the streets you hadto get off of the street. That was a way of life. And all a white woman had to say was, "that niggerkinda looked at me or sassed me." So were talkin about a way of life that in this part of the countrythat was enforced by law.Stock footage of commentator on the trial: This was the home of Moses Wright. It was fromthis shack the state alleges Emmett Till was taken by Roy Bryant & J.W. Milam.Wheeler Parker, Cousin:The house was a dark as 1,000 midnights. You couldnt see. It was like anightmare. I mean -- I mean someone come and stand over you with a pistol in one hand and aflashlight and youre 16 years old its a terrifying experience.William Winter, former Mississippi Governor: The Till Case held the whole system up forinspection by the rest of the country and by the rest of the world. It was the beginning of thefocusing on the problems between the races in the Deep South that culminated in the ultimate CivilRights battles of the, of the rest of the 50s and, and, and into the 60s.Rose Jourdain, Journalist: I think black peoples reaction was so visceral. And I think it wasprobably more than anything else, in terms of the mass civil rights movement, the spark that, thatlaunched it. Everybody knew we were under attack and that attack was symbolized by the attack on a14-year-old boy.William Winter: When one drives through the lowest hills and looks out at the sweep of those fieldsbelow, flat as a pancake as far as the eye could see, its breath taking. Those who have not been tothe delta find themselves gasping at the sight as they come over the lowest hills and see thatexpanse of flat agricultural land.Narrator: It was the summer of 1955 when Emmett Till arrived in Mississippi from Chicago. Hisfamily had worked cotton for generations, but this trip would be Emmetts introduction to the delta,known as "the most southern place on earth."Stock footage Mississippi Citizens Council film on Forrest, Mississippi: This is Mississippi.Today a situation exists in Mississippi that is unlike the situation in most states in the nation. In some 9
  • 10. sections of the state there is a preponderance of colored citizens. This situation has broughtproblems, it has created challenges, but most important of all, it has inspired a social system to meetthe challenge. In every community in Mississippi, there is segregation of the races. Drinking fountainsare segregated. Restrooms are segregated. The local theater is segregated.Clara Davis, Mississippi Resident: You never in any way said anything that they didnt like. Youdidnt disagree with em on a whole. You just didnt do that. If a white person did something to you,you had no recourse at all. People disappeared. We dont know what happened to them. They justdisappeared.Narrator: In the 75 years before Emmett Till set foot in Mississippi, more than five hundred blackpeople had been lynched in the state. Most were men who had been accused of associating withwhite women.Betty Pearson, Mississippi Resident: Part of that culture was that the women were put onpedestals and they were some sort of, ah idealization of whatever it means to be woman or to befemale. There was an almost irrational fear of black men as if every black man was ready to attack orrape a white woman if you gave him a chance. I can remember when my father died, Sammy, theblack man who worked for him was there and I threw my arms around his neck. And he pulled awayfrom me. He could not have that, you know physical show of affection, of sharing grief, or whatever.Black men did not touch white women.William Winter: Many white Southerners, perhaps most Deep South Southerners had convincedthemselves that black people were relatively happy in their -- in their segregated relationships withwhite people. Most white people, I think, had had convinced themselves that this was a defensiblesocial system in which they lived.Ernest Withers, Photographer: I had a cousin that was living in Mississippi and was walking downthe sidewalk down near downtown in Tulica and didnt get of the sidewalk and the man slapped himand knocked him off the sidewalk. And he got up, and instead of killin the white man like he wanted,he just start walkin and never stopped until he got to Memphis and never stopped until he got up toChicago.Narrator: Hundreds of thousands of black people fled Mississippi for Chicago in the years betweenthe World Wars. One-way train fare of eleven dollars and ten cents took them to a different world.Neighborhoods and schools were segregated, but the city offered the kind of freedom blackMississippians could only dream about.Mamie Till:Chicago was a land of promise and they thought that milk and honey was everywhere.And so it was a lot of excitement leaving the South, leaving the cotton fields. You could hold yourhead up in ChicagoNarrator:: Mamie Carthan arrived in Chicago at the age of two. An only child, young Mamie was thehope of her family of former sharecroppers. She graduated from High School at the top of her class,and became one of the first black women in town to hold a civil service job. In 1940, Mamie marriedsoldier Louis Till, and one year later, their son, Emmett, was born. In 1945, Mamie got word thatPrivate Till had died in Europe. All she received of his possessions was a signet ring inscribed with hisinitials, L.T. Emmett, her only child, was four years old. A childhood case of polio left him with astutter, but by the time he was a teenager, Emmett Till had grown into a cocky, self-assured boy wholoved to be the center of attention. 10
  • 11. Richard Heard, Classmate: When we first met, we were in gym in Mr. Longs gym period. Iremember Emmett raising his shirt up to about his navel and start making his belly roll, just waves offat (Laughs) rollin and it just broke us up. I mean the whole gym went crazy. He was that kinda kid.Wheeler Parker:Anything goin on, hes in the middle of all -- all of it and he just loved to play ball.He just loved jokes. He would pay people to tell him jokes. If there was a group there, Emmett was infront. And he was the lively one. He was the one that everybody kind of looked to. Natural bornleader.Narrator: In June of 1955, black Chicago swung to a new kind of music called rock n roll. ASupreme Court decision had struck down school segregation the year before. Emmett finishedseventh grade, and in July, he turned fourteen. It was summer, and it was a good time to become ayoung man.Magnolia Cooksey-Mathious, Classmate: I knew Emmett Till. We went to grammar schooltogether. And Emmett was a fun young man, just like any other young teenager. The boys worepolyester pants, crepe soled shoes. I would ware flared skits with the crinoline underneath, you musthave the crinoline. And we were doing the bop, thats the bebop and we just danced and had fun. Wewere just all good friends.Narrator: In August, Emmetts great uncle, Moses Wright, visited Chicago and invited Emmett andhis cousin Wheeler home to Mississippi. Before she let them go, Mamie schooled the boys on theways of the south.Mamie Till: I let them know that Mississippi was not Chicago. And when you go to Mississippi, youreliving by an entirely different set of rules. Ah, it is, yes, maam and no, maam, yes, sir and no, sir.And, Beau if you see a white woman coming down the street, you get off the sidewalk and drop yourhead. Dont even look at her.Wheeler Parker:The concern for Emmett was that he could be, with his fun-loving, free-spiritedway of living, he could get in trouble, could have a lot of problems. He was fourteen, but he justturned fourteen. He was just thirteen just a few weeks before we went down there.Mamie Till: He thought I was exaggerating, which I was. I was trying to exaggerate. If I could gohigh enough, I — things could seek soak into his head that "You have to be very careful."Narrator: As Emmett packed his bags, Mississippi was set to explode, Two black men had recentlybeen killed for registering black voters. And a push to implement the new law on schooldesegregation had whites, from the delta to the statehouse, spitting fire.James Eastland, Senator: You are not going to permit the NAACP to take over your schools. Youare not going to permit the NAACP to control your state.William Winter, Governor: It was argued in coffee shops all over the Deep South, that "If we giveon this, then well, well start giving on everything else and the first thing you know, we wont have asegregated society, and black people will be taking over in this part of the country."Moses Newson, Journalist: A lot of leadership was going around making outrageous threats andclaiming they werent going to obey the law and that sort of thing. Consequences was that almostanything could happen to anybody at anytime down there. 11
  • 12. Narrator: On August 19th, Mamie gave Emmett the ring that had belonged to his father. The nextmorning, Emmett and his mother grabbed his bags and rushed off to the 63rd Street station.Mamie Till: He was running up the steps to try to make it to the train and I said, "Emmett, or Beau"-- I called him Beau, I said, "Where are you going? You havent kissed me good-bye. And how do Iknow Ill ever see you again?" And he looked at me and he said, "Aw, Mama," he kind of scolded mefor saying something like that. But he turned around and he came back and he kissed me good-byeand he said, "Here. Take this." He pulled his watch off and gave it to me. He said, "I wont need thiswhere Im going." I said, "What about your ring?" He said, "Oh, Im gonna show it off to the fellas."And with that, he was up the steps and on his way to get on the train.Narrator:: Emmett rode the Illinois Central sixteen hours out of Chicago to the Mississippi Delta.Wheeler Parker: We went to South, near the beginning of cotton-picking time, late August and wepicked cotton for a half a day and we would go swimming, run the snakes out the river. We had a lotof fun.Narrator: Emmetts family lived on the outskirts of Money, a whistle-stop town in the heart of deltacotton country.Clara Davis: The town of Money was one street with maybe five or six stores, but thats all. Justone, one street. Wasnt much, wasnt really a town.Narrator: At one end of Money was Bryants grocery, which made a business of selling candy toblack kids and provisions to field hands from nearby plantations. Roy Bryant, a twenty-four year-oldex-soldier and his wife Carolyn owned the grocery and not much else. The Bryants lived with theirtwo boys in cramped rooms behind the store. Roys half-brother J.W. Milam helped out around thegrocery. The 235-pound Milam was a hard drinking man with a reputation for being tough on anyonewho got in his way. On a steamy Wednesday afternoon, Emmett and seven other teenagers piled intoMoses Wrights old Ford and headed to Bryants grocery.Wheeler Parker:The day that we went to the store in Money, we were picking cotton first half ofthe day, and the second half, because it was so hot -- my uncle drove the car and we took off toMoney to get some refreshments, just general things you buy in a store.Narrator:Roy Bryant was out of town. Leaving his wife Carolyn alone behind the counter whenEmmett and his cousins pulled up. Other customers were sitting outside, talking and playing checkersin the cool of the shade. One or two at a time, the boys drifted into the store and back out again witha cold drink or a piece of candy. Then, Emmett went in and bought two cents worth of bubblegum.According to witnesses, on his way out of the store, Emmett turned to Carolyn Bryant and whistled.She stormed out.Wheeler Parker: We all got a-scared and someone said, "Shes going to get a pistol." Thats whenwe became afraid. Said, "Shes going to the car to get a pistol." And as she went to the car, we alljumped in my uncles car. We were goin pretty fast and dust is flying behind us. And, of course,Emmett Till begged us not to tell my grandfather what had took place. And we didnt. This was on aWednesday. And we didnt tell him what had taken place. Ah, so Wednesday went by, Thursday wentby, nothin. Friday. We forgot about it. 12
  • 13. Moses Wright, description of kidnapping: Sunday Morning about 2:30, I heard a voice at thedoor. And it said this is Mr. Bryant. And said they wanted the boy that did the talk at Money. Andwhen I opened the door there was a man standing with a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in theother.Wheeler Parker: It was like a nightmare. I mean its -- I mean someone come and stand over youwith a pistol in one hand and a flashlight and youre 16 years old its a terrifying experience, veryterrifyingMoses Wright description of kidnapping: So we marched around through two rooms and Ifound the boy in the third room in the bed with my baby boy and they told him to get up and put hisclothes on.Narrator: Moses Wright pleaded with the two men. Hes only fourteen, and hes from up north."Why not give the boy a whipping," Wright begged, "and leave it at that?"Wheeler Parker: The two in the next room, my cousin and uncle they never woke up. My uncleSimmie did wake up, but they told him to go back to sleep. He was twelve years old. And I just saidhell, Im fixing to die.Narrator: J.W. Milam turned to Moses Wright. "How old are you, preacher?" He asked. "Sixty-four,"Wright replied, "You make any trouble, youll never live to be sixty-five."Moses Wright description of kidnapping: Near to the car they asked a question, "Is this theright one?" And I heard a voice say, "Yes" and they drove off toward Money with him.Wheeler Parker: Nobody talked to anybody. The house was a dark as 1000 midnights. You couldntsee...and when they left, I was still afraid and so Im waitin for them to come back. It was thatSunday morning, early Sunday morning.Warren Hampton, Mississippi Resident: I was playin beside the road and I saw Mr. Milam in thetruck coming by and it had a, had a cover over the door, we called a tarpaulin, and I heardsomebody hollerin on the truck.Willie Reed, Mississippi Resident: I could hear all this beatin and I could hear this beatin and Icould here this cryin and cryin and beatin, and Im saying to myself, "They beatin somebody upthere." I heard that beatin even, before I got to, even before I got to the barn. I passed, they stillbeatin, they still beatin. I hear it. Milam came out. So when he said "Did you hear anything?" I sawhim he had khaki pants on, had a green nylon shirt, and a .45 on his side. So I said, "Naw." I said, "Ididnt hear anything," I said, "anything."Oudie Brown, Mississippi Resident: I was coming through there that mornin.Too-Tight was out there washing the truck out. Out washing J.W Milams truck out. I said, "What allthat blood come from?" He laughed. The boy laughed. Thats what he did. He said, "Theres a shoehere. Theres one of his shoes here." I said "Who!?" Thats the way I said it. I say "Who?" "EmmettTills shoe."Narrator: In Chicago, a desperate Mamie Till notified the local newspapers of Emmettsdisappearance. In Mississippi, the family alerted the sheriff and then began to search for any sign ofthe boy along riverbanks and under bridges, "where black folks always look," Emmetts uncle said, 13
  • 14. "when something like this happens." The next day, Roy Bryant was arrested for kidnapping. J.W.Milam was at a store in nearby Minter City when the Leflore County sheriff caught up with him.Oudie Brown: Said, "J.W, I got a writ for ya." He throwed his head up there, just like that. Hespoke of it again, he went over it again. He said, "I got a writ for you. Is you goin?" "Hell no, thatsshit you talking." No longer than two hours, the high sheriff come back. The high sheriff come inthere, didnt even knock on no door or nothin. Walked in there say, "J.W. Milam I come at ya. Imgonna carry you dead or alive. You just as well to get ready to go." Yeah.Narrator: On August thirty-first, three days after Emmett Till had disappeared, a boy fishing in theTallahatchie noticed a body caught on a gnarled root in the muddy water. He informed TallahatchieCounty sheriff Clarence Strider.Clarence Strider Jr., Son of Mississippi Sheriff: My dad called me and asked me did I have aboat in the river. And I told him I did, Then he said, "Well, well be down there in a little while," andhe sent deputies down here to go with me and we took the boat and went up the river. It was in acurve in a drift and a foot was stickin up and we tore into the drift and got to him and, you know,got him out. Then we carried him to the, up to the other landin and put him in the hearse.Narrator: Emmetts body had been weighed down with a 75-pound cotton gin fan tied around hisneck with barbed wire. The boy was so badly beaten that Moses Wright could identify Emmett onlyby his fathers ring. Mamie Till was in Chicago, surrounded by worried family and friends, when shewas told that her only child was dead.Mamie Till: Those words were like arrows sticking all over my body. My eyes were so full of tearsuntil I couldnt see. And when I began to make the announcement that Emmett had been found andhow he was found, the whole house began to scream and to cry. And thats when I realized that thiswas a load that I was going to have to carry. I wouldnt get any help carrying this load.Narrator: By the time Mamie received her sons body back in Chicago, two weeks after she hadkissed him goodbye, Emmetts murder was front page news. His body was taken to a funeral homeowned by A.A. Rayner, who had promised Mississippi authorities that he would keep the casket nailedshut. When Mamie Till asked him to open it up, Rayner refused.Mamie Till: I asked him, Mr. Rayner, do you have a hammer?" I said, "I havent signed anything,and I havent made any promises, and if you cant open those box -- that box, I can,"Harry Caise, Mortician: And we opened the casket, there was a terrible odor that came from thebody because the body had been in the water and began to deteriorate. Mr. Rayner was, he told themother he said "If I was you I wouldnt look at this body because this body in such a horriblecondition." She said, "Mr. Rayner, I want to see my son."WARN STUDENTS that gruesome photos of Emmett will be forthcoming.Mamie Till: And I decided then that I would start at his feet and work my way up, maybegathering strength as I went. I paused at his midsection, because I knew he would notwant me looking at him. But I saw enough that I knew he was intact. I kept on up until Igot to his chin and then I -- I was forced to deal with his face. I saw that his tongue waschoked out. I noticed that the right eye was lying on midway his cheek, I noticed that hisnose had been broken like somebody took a meat chopper and chopped his nose in 14
  • 15. several places. As I kept looking, I saw a hole, which I presumed, was a bullet hole and Icould look through that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered was itnecessary to shoot him? Mr. Rayner asked me, he said "Do you want me to touch thebody up?" I said, "No, Mr. Rayner, let the people see what Ive seen." I was just willingto bear it all. I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till.Narrator: Mamies decision would make her sons death a touchstone for a generation: At a churchon the South Side of Chicago, Emmett Tills mutilated body would be on display for all to see.Magnolia Cooksey-Mathious: It was on a Sunday afternoon. I wont ever forget, it was a Sundayafternoon. The church was very calm; the line was very orderly.Mamie Till: I thought that pretty soon the crowd would die down. It looked like all of Chicago wasthere.Harry Caise: Well they brought the children with them because Emmett was fourteen years old andthey wanted the younger kids to see what happened to Emmett. They were mad, they were angryMagnolia Cooksey-Mathious: And as we were led into the church, my girlfriends and myself, wewalked up to the casket and it was covered with a glass and we all looked down this was our friendlaying lookin like a monster.Mamie Till:They said that about one in every five had to be assisted out of the building. They wouldjust go into a faint.Rose Jourdain:I think black peoples reaction was so visceral. Everybody knew we were underattack and that attack was symbolized by the attack on a 14-year-old boy.Wheeler Parker: As far as I was concerned, that wasnt him there, yet at the same time, asconfusing as it may sound, it was him. But I didnt accept it. I just in my mind I kept sayin, "Ill seehim again," you know. And I guess to me it didnt happen. But it did happen.Narrator: Fifty thousand people in Chicago had seen Emmett Tills corpse with their own eyes. Whenthe black magazine Jet ran photos of the body, black Americans across the country shuddered.Richard Heard: It was grotesque. I mean it was just ... It blew my mind. I couldnt sleep at night. Itwas traumatic for me for -- for months. I mean, it touched us all.Narrator: Mainstream newspapers and magazines spread the story of the fourteen-year-old blackboy whod been brutally killed for whistling at a white woman.Rose Jourdain: It stunned white America. Most white Americans at that time were saying thingssuch as the Emmett Till murder had happened back in slavery times. That these kinds of things werenot of their generation, that they no longer happened in America. And this said to them clearly, "Hey,its right here. It is now."Narrator: Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam admitted having taken Emmett Till, but claimed theyd let himgo. Now, with the eyes of the nation turning to Mississippi, the state appointed a special prosecutorand filed charges. 15
  • 16. Stock Footage, Prosecutor Chatem w/charges:D.A. Chatem: The federal indictment is that theydid willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and of their malice of forethought kill and murder Emmett Till, ahuman being.Narrator: Scores of reporters descended on the delta. Television networks chartered a plane to sendfootage to New York for the nightly news. The Associated Press fielded queries from Paris,Copenhagen, Tokyo. The Till case had become a major international news story. Under the glare ofthe spotlight, white Mississippians began to close ranks. Local stores collected ten thousand dollars incountertop jars for Bryant and Milam. Every lawyer in the county joined their defense team.William Winter: People of the socioeconomic level of the two defendants in this case wereobviously looked down on by the more aristocratic ah, whites almost ah, with the same disdain thatthey looked down on — on blacks. But they were still white folks. And when push came to shove the-- the white community rallied in support of them against a, a, a young black person for whom theyhad even greater disdain.John Herbers, Journalist: The atmosphere among whites in Tallahatchie county and other thewhole surrounding area was one of absolute scorn at the fact that these men were being put on trialfor their lives. And the cynicism ah, was ah, usually cached in very crude jokes. One of them was"Isnt that just like a nigger to swim across the Tallahatchie with a gin fan around his neck"Stock Footage, Man on the Street Interviews. W/whites about trial: White Man: I cantunderstand how a civilized mother could put a dead body of her child on public display. WhiteWoman: Im almost convinced that the very beginning of this was by a communistic front. WhiteMan: Well sir, Ill tell ya right now, if he gets justice theyll turn him a loose. If I was on the grandjury that is what I would do.Narrator: Among African Americans, there was outright fear. Too-Tight Collins, who worked fromJ.W. Milam and had been seen washing blood from Milams truck, disappeared. The message to blackpeople was clear: hide what you know; hide even what you think, or face the consequences.Stock Footage, Man on the Street Interviews. W/two black men about trial: Interviewer:Young man do you think these two men should be indicted? Black Man: I really dont know sir.Interviewer: What do you mean you dont know? Black Man: I dont know whether they should ornot. Interviewer: Have you studied the case by reading the papers perhaps? Black Man: Yes sir.Interviewer: And you dont know whether they should be indicted? Black Man: No sir. Interviewer:Thank you very much. Black Man: Youre welcome.Narrator: On September 19th, less than three weeks after Emmetts body was found, Roy Bryantand J.W. Milams trial for murder opened in Sumner, Mississippi, which touted itself as "a good placeto raise a boy." The air in the courtroom, a reporter wrote, was "as heavy and oppressive as themoss that hangs from the cypress trees.:"Mamie Till: In the courtroom they recorded 118 degrees, and, of course, there was no airconditioning. Ah, they had the ceiling fans that were only stirring the air up, making it hotter when itreached your body.Narrator: On the first day of the trial, presiding judge Curtis Swango named the jury -- all whitemen from Bryant and Milams home county. 16
  • 17. Betty Pearson: I remember looking at the — at that jury and even though I knew a good many ofthe men who were on the jury and, and they looked mean to me. I would have hated to have goneup against any of those guys.Narrator: Tallahatchie county sheriff and plantation owner Clarence Strider was responsible forlocating witnesses and gathering evidence against Bryant and Milam.John Herbers, Journalist: Sheriff Strider was a big, fat plain talking, obscene talking sheriff youwould expect to find in the south. His actions at the trial were more I think, not to so much to sayjustice, or what was going on, but to sure that his courtroom was totally segregated.Ernest Withers, Photographer: The man had laid it out that "We got 22 seats over here for youwhite boys. And weve got four seats over here for you colored boys. We dont mix em down here.We aint going to mix em. And we dont intend to. You aint goin to be with the white folks and thewhite folks aint goin to be with you and yall might be (Unintell.), but aint gonna be no love nestbetween black and white folk.Narrator: Strider consigned black reporters and Detroit Congressman Charles Diggs to a card tableon the sidelines. Strider greeted them as he passed with a cheery "Hello, niggers."Stock Footage, Sheriff Strider on NAACP: We never have any trouble until some of our Southernniggers go up North and the NAACP talks to em and they come back home. If they would keep theirnose and mouths out of our business we would be able to do more and enforcing the laws ofTallahatchie County and Mississippi.John Herbers: The reaction of reporters from out of the south was one of just absolute amazement.They knew that there were strange things going on in places like Sumner, but they did not know itwould be quite like that. They were really surprised at what they found. At the same time, of course,they wrote about it with great relish because it was a good story. It had sex, it had murder, it hadmystery.Narrator: When Mamie Till arrived, she had to make her way through an unsympathetic crowdgathered on the courthouse lawn.Stock Footage, Mamie Till Arrives at Trial News Conference: Interviewer: What do you intendto do here today? Mamie: To answer any questions that my, that the attorneys might ask me toanswer. Interviewer: How do you think you could possibly be a help to them? Mamie: I dont know,just by answering whatever questions that they ask me. Interviewer: Do you have any evidencebearing on this case? Mamie: I do know that this is my son.Narrator: Mamie Till testified that the body shed examined and buried was indeed her son. In theircross-examination, Bryant and Milams attorneys peppered her with hostile questions, and thenpresented the main argument for the defense: The corpse pulled from the Tallahatchie River was notEmmett Till.Mamie Till: They summed up by saying, "Isnt it true that you and the NAACP got your headstogether and you came down here and with their help, you all dug up a body and you have claimedthat body to be your son? Isnt it true that your son is in Detroit, Michigan with his grandfather rightnow?" 17
  • 18. Narrator: With Sheriff Strider and courtroom sentiment clearly on the side of the defendants,reporters began their own desperate search for witnesses.Warren Hampton:Black people wasnt speaking out about the Emmett Till Case at that particulartime because they knew that it could happen to them. The blacks feared for their lives and therefamilys lives. Because -- those white folks were for real. So it was just like you know hush hush youknow so I was told to keep my mouth shut and thats what I did.Narrator: Two days into the trial, reporters got a lead on a young sharecropper named Willie Reedwho might be willing to talk.Willie Reed, Mississippi Resident:And I was in the cotton field and I was pickin, I was pickincotton, pickin cotton, and I looked across the field and there was about seven or eight peoplescomin across the field towards me, was white and black comin that way. And then they began toquestion me about this here. "Did you see anything?" So I told em what I saw.Narrator: Putting his life at risk, Willie Reed agreed to step forward.Willie Reed:Well, when you walked in that courtroom and you know what you — that youre goingtestify. Then you look at all these white folks and everybody lookin at you and theyve got theyfrowns on their face and everything. You see em. They be lookin at you, rollin their eyes and lookinat you. Yeah. Whites looking at you. (Laughs) It was somethin.Narrator: Reed spoke in a voice barely louder than a whisper. Hed seen Roy Bryant, J.W. Milam,and one other white man with Emmett Till early that Sunday morning, and had heard the sounds of abeating coming from Milams shed. After delivering his testimony, Reed was smuggled out ofMississippi. When he reached Chicago, he was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. Theprosecutions best witness was Moses Wright, who had clearly seen the men who took Emmett Tillfrom his home. Wright had been in hiding since the night of the kidnapping, and had beenthreatened with death. But there, in the searing hear of the delta courtroom, the 64-year oldsharecropper had his say.Ernest Withers: One of the attorneys asked, "Do you know the man that came to your house thatnight to get Emmett Till out of your house?Narrator: Moses Wright stood and pointed first at Roy Bryant, then at J.W. Milam. "Thar he," hesaid. Wright later claimed he could feel the blood boil in hundreds of white people in the courtroom.But, he said, "I had decided to tell it like it was."Moses Newson: That was a dramatic moment. That took an awful lot of courage for him to get upthere and do what he did. I think he had decided that he was going to do it no matter whathappenedNarrator: After he testified, Wright left his cotton blooming in the field, his old car sitting at thestation, and slipped onto the train to Chicago. He would never again live in Mississippi. The trial drewto a close after only five days. In his summation, the lead defense attorney warned members of thejury that their ancestors would turn over in their graves if Bryant and Milam were found guilty. "Everylast Anglo-Saxon one of you," he said, "has the courage to free these men." 18
  • 19. Mamie Till: As the jury retired, the black people who were standing around the walls began to easeout of the door. I said, "Its time for us to go." Congressman Diggs said, "What, and miss theverdict?" I said, "Congressman, this is one verdict you dont want to be present to hear."Narrator: The crowd in the courtroom waited in the heat. Reporters overheard members of the jurylaughing and joking in the jury room. In just over an hour, the jury returned.Stock Footage, News Anchor Reports Till Verdict tape: In the Emmett Till Murder trial, the allwhite jury has acquitted the two white defendants accused of killing the 14-year-old Negro youth Thejury foreman said the deciding factor was the states failure to prove the identity of the body pulledfrom a river near Sumner Mississippi.Narrator: A juror later revealed that the jury had stalled to "make it look good." They wouldnt havetaken so long to return to the courtroom, he said, "if [they] hadnt stopped to drink pop."Mamie Till:The verdict came in "not guilty". You could hear guns firing. I mean it was almost like a4th of July celebration, or it was almost as if the White Sox had won the pennant in the city ofChicago. It was just it just -- oh, it -- it was a mess.Narrator: After the trial, sheriff Clarence Strider told reporters, "I hope the Chicago niggers and theNAACP are satisfied."Clarence Strider Jr.: People are used to doin thang normal around here. (Laughs) And they justtried to ruin the thing. They thought they could run over the judge and the sheriff and everybodyover there. They thought that they, you know, could just take over, but they didnt.Stock Footage, Interview with Milam & Bryant after the Verdict: Interviewer: How do youfolks feel now that its all over? Roy, how about you? Roy Bryant: Im just glad its over with.Interviewer: J.W.? Milam: I am too. Interviewer: And Mrs. Bryant? Mrs. Bryant: I feel fine.Interviewer: And how about you Mrs. Milam? Mrs. Milam: Fine.Narrator: Reports of the acquittal made front page headlines across the United States, and set offan international firestorm. "The life of a Negro in Mississippi," one European paper observed, "is notworth a whistle." From Boston to Los Angeles, black people packed meeting halls and spilled into thestreets to hear Mamie Till tell her story.Stock Footage, Mamie Comments on Trial Verdict: And what I saw was a shame before Godand man. And the way the jury chose to believe the ridiculous stories of the defense attorneys. I justcant go into detail to tell you the silly things, the stupid things that were brought up as probabilitiesand they swallowed it like a fish swallows a hook. Just anything, just any excuse to acquit these twomen.Narrator: Protected from further prosecution, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam sold their story to areporter for Look Magazine for four thousand dollars. Their account appeared just four months afterthe acquittal.Milam Bryant Scratch: We took him and we was just gonna whip him, scare some sense into him.Back of the house is a tool shed. Two rooms about 12 feet square. We walked him in there and tookturns smashing him across the head with the 45. First my brother, then me, then him, then me. We 19
  • 20. put him back in the truck. We knew what we was going to do. Theres a spot about a mile and a halffrom the bridge where the banks are steep. It was just the spot.I held up the gun. I fired and the Chicago boy twisted around and caught it right in his ear. We tiedthe gin fan to his neck with barbed wire and rolled his body into 20 feet of muddy water.For three hours that morning we had a big old fire in the yard. Damn if that nigger didnt have crepesole shoes. You know how hard they are to burn?Narrator: If there were others involved, as Willie Reed and Moses Wright had testified under oath,Milam and Bryant did not name them. Mamie Till went to Washington to press the FederalGovernment to re-open the case. Despite thousands of letters protesting Mississippis handling of themurder, President Dwight Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ruled out a federalinvestigation. Eisenhower didnt even answer Mamie Tills telegram.No one ever did time for the killing of the 14 year-old black boy from Chicago. But his murder, andthe trial and acquittal of his killers, sent a powerful message: If change was going to come, peoplewould have to put themselves on the line. Contributors to civil rights groups soared. And one hundreddays after the death of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, andthe Montgomery bus boycott began.Mamie Till: When people saw what had happened to my son, men stood up who had never stoodup before. People became vocal who had never vocalized before. Emmetts death was the opening ofthe Civil Rights movement. He was the sacrificial lamb of the movement.Betty Pearson: I do believe that nationally, or at least across the South, the Emmett Till trial andthe result of that trial somehow spurred the Civil Rights Movement. As if this was either the last strawor maybe it was the spark.Moses Newson: People were thoroughly disgusted at what happened in that situation. And it madean awful lot of people realize that they themselves had to get involved and do something. It was justa magnificent reaction to a very ugly thing that had taken place in this country.Card: After the trial, black customers boycotted Bryants store, forcing it out of business.J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant never faced additional charges connected with the murderThey died in Mississippi.Card: Mamie Till returned to Chicago, remarried, taught public school for twenty-four years, andcontinued to speak publicly about her sons murder.She died on January 6, 2003 at the age of 81. 20