Monday, August 28, 2006

Mr. Emmett Till

The day was Saturday, August 20, 1955. Mamie Till rushed her son, Emmett down to the 63rd Street station on Chicago’s Southside to meet Uncle Moses.  It was a southbound train going to Greenwood, Mississippi. “Now remember what I told you Emmett,” Mamie said with her soft voice and sad eyes. Mamie told Emmett about the rules of Jim Crow and how to conduct himself in the Apartheid south. “Never look them in the eye, Emmett and always say yes sir/ma’am when you have to speak.” She told Emmett about the separate water fountains, separate restrooms, and separate restaurants. She told him to look for the signs that said, “Colored.” “Look for the signs, Emmett!” “Okay, momma. I’ll be alright.” Mamie would not be there to protect her son so she emphasized the peculiarity of the place. I imagine that Emmett gave his mother an assuring smile, but even asserted his manhood as he boarded that train to Greenwood, Mississippi. She probably gave him a shoebox filled with her home fried chicken as she hugged her son for the last time that Saturday afternoon. Emmett gave his mother is wrist watch.  "I won't be needing this where I'm going, Mama."  Emmett was fourteen.

Emmett would travel all night from Chicago and arrive in Greenwood, Mississippi on Sunday, August 21st. He was happy to see his cousins and the rest of the family when he arrived with his great uncle, Moses Wright. Emmett was only there for a few days, and then there was the incident! You know…the wolf whistle. Yes, Emmett was in Mississippi for only a week when he whistled at a white woman in the grocery store. It was a boyish act. Besides, Emmett was just a boy. It was the boyish act that would ignite a movement.

The town was Money, Mississippi.  Emmett wanted to buy 10 cents worth of penny candy at the Bryant Store.  He gave her the dime, but he touched her hand.  The woman was twenty one-year-old Carolyn Bryant, accomplice. Her husband was Roy Bryant, murderer. The system was Jim Crow/American Apartheid. A few days later and late one evening, Emmett Till was taken from the home of his great uncle, Moses Wright. Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam had to teach Emmett a lesson. Emmett did not know that the penalty for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi was death and that there wasn’t a court in the entire state of Mississippi that would convict those men for doing so. Emmett paid with his life.

Emmett's beaten and mutilated body was found floating in the Tallahatchie River. The date was Sunday, August 28, 1955. He had just arrived in Mississippi last Sunday.The men were never convicted. In the end, Mamie Till lost a son, and a fourteen-year-old boy lost his life. Emmett’s opened casket (Mamie’s request) left a nation in terror and outrage. A few months later Rosa Parks would refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and the Civil Rights movement was born.

Note: The last time that I was in Chicago I stopped at a Starbucks on the corner of Stony Island and 71st streets. I noticed an additional sign above the 71st street sign which read "Emmett Till St." Today, Emmett would be around the age of my father. God bless his soul. Rest in peace Mr. Till. Rest

sources: photo provided by

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