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

To find out more about Emmett Till click post title.


credo said...

Thanks for reminding us to remember the story beyond a simply street sign to honor his name.

Stephen A. Bess said...

I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now. I wanted to make a special effort to honor Emmett Till this year. Thanks!

MJW said...

I presume you read the murderers' account after the trial, as it was published in's horrible. But even worse are the letters published the following week in the's one of the worst things I ever saw in print.

Anonymous said...

This is another story that is SO sad. It just makes me sad...

Stephen A. Bess said...

I'm familiar with that piece in Life Mag. but I've never read it. I'll look for that online. Thanks.

I know Faith. I hate to sound macabre, but people need to remember Emmett Till. It's unfortunate that most of the history connected to black America is painful. There are some good times, but even those "good" times are laced with pain. One could argue how that is history in general, but...

Anonymous said...

Oh I know we need to remember, even though it is SO sad. Thank you for reminding us, and for me at least bringing up a lot of history I did not even know!

Stephen A. Bess said...

Yes! Education is so important. I'm happy that you can take somethig from the blog when you visit. Enjoy your afternoon!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thank you for reminding us, Stephen

Stephen A. Bess said...

You're welcome. It's a painful reminder, but very important.


Anonymous said...

Stephen Bess (Author extraordinaire)You are a great historian... I know, I know.. groupies :)
Thank you for reminding us of Emmett Till's untimely death. We celebrate his life today. May his and many other fallen heroes' blood "nourish the tree of freedom"

To his own credit Emmett Till was a wise little boy. For at the tender age of 14 he could see that Carolyn Bryant is married to a mere boy in the form of Roy Bryant!!! A grown man would not kill a little boy for whistling to his wife. At the most you scold the little boy, tell his parents or both.

A little boy chose to kiss me instead of giving me a hug once. And he looked at his father and said "Daddy I kissed the girl on the mouth" bwh haaa you should see how excited he was. I was speechless, yess he is still alive.

Michelle said...

There's always a lesson to be learned when I come over here for a visit, SB! Wow, I love the way this piece was written. I feel like I was there with Emmett -- hearing the train come down the tracks and smelling that fried chicken in the shoebox. What a tragic, powerful story. A reminder that God truly works in mysterious ways and one person (including a child) can truly make a difference. May Emmett and others who suffered similar fates all in the name of equality and civil rights forever be remembered by generations to come long after we're gone. Kudos to Mamie Till for having an open casket ceremony which in essence held up a mirror to the world and showed a reflection of our nation's ugliness at the time. In this case, pictures were truly worth a thousand+ words!

I too will look for the Life Magazine materials mjw referred to. If you find them before I do, please post. It would make a great and powerful addendum to this entry.

Stephen A. Bess said...

That was a cruel price to pay for whistling. He was God's chosen sacrifice for our people. It hurts my heart that he died as he did. I pray that he is safe, quiet and happy in God's arms. Thank you Tryphina for your wise and sometimes amusing words. Peace~ :)

Hey, what's up. Yes, I could imagine the scene as I was writing it. I thought about that very scene the last time I was on the Southside of Chicago a couple of years ago. I did imagine that overgrown little boy and his mother's sweet eyes as she said goodbye. I imagined the strange feeling that a mother's intuition can give as the train pulled off. I can imagine.

I will look for that piece in Life. Yes, thanks for that Michael West. Thank you Michelle, for that comment!

Anonymous said...

When I first heard of Emmitt Till's story, I was reading the local newspaper about two years ago and decided to do a bit more reseach on him. I looked him up on the internet and saw pictures of his dead body in the casket and read about how his mother wanted people to see what these men had did to her son. Seeing those pictures made me sad, extremely deeply sad, I was filled with rage and anger and was in a state of shock for a while. I couldn't believe that this had happened to an innocent boy. His story is moving and I think it should definitely be told on the big screen. I don't think enough people know about this. All people should know- not just blacks, because things like that should NEVER happen.

Thanks for keeping his memory alive!

Stephen A. Bess said...

Thank you for doing that extra research. There not enough of us who really look into our own history.

Professor Zero said...

And now I know what day it happened. Very good she left the casket open.

There is a book I need to re-find, about a still more recent lynching in southern MS, theoretically the most recent, I think 1970's.

Michelle said...

Here's an additional link. Didn't find Life Magazine article mjw referred to, but I did find Murderer Confession and Letters to Editor in Look magazine. What ugliness!

Uaridi said...

Thank you bro. Thank you for reminding us of Emmett and what life was under Jim Crow. I am finding it hard to comment right now.

Dance_Soul said...

Ahhh Stephen. Thank you for making us remember.

Bamboo Lemur Boys Are Mean To Their Girls said...

great post. thank you

black feline said...

we must remember less they forget..thanks for a wonderful post..his death was not in vain.

Bougie Black Boy said...

very well done.... as usual. I come here for my history lessons!

Shaggy said...

RIP Till. Sure History and thanks for posting this.

Hope you are well Bess man... Skins any better with Randle El? Be good Sir.

Stephen A. Bess said...

The open casket forced the world to look at what was going on here in America. It really exposed the US and it's attitude towards race relations.


You're welcome ausi! It is a tough subject, but worth discussing.

Thank you for reading this.

Thank you and welcome!

Thank you for that comment.

class is now in session. :)

Thank you, sir! The skins looked bad the other day. It's going to be an interesting season????? Lots of questions??

Cergie said...

I went here yet and I did not put a comment then because for me I need some time to writte in English.
What I want to tell is that in my town, in the subburb of Paris, children are so accustomed to meet 1/3 white near 1/3 black and 1/3 yellow skins that they not even see which color has a friend our a teacher.
It's the same than eyes color or hair color: just a detail.
My son Etienne had a teacher, he had her for 2 years, we were often speaken of her, "Mrs R. that..., Mrs R. this...", also with an else mother who knew this teacher.
And it's only at the end of these two years that by an alse way than my son or the other mother I learned that this teacher's skin is black.

Stephen A. Bess said...

Yes, it's difficult to live in such a color conscious world. America has a problem with color and race that it tries to ignore and push aside. I truly hope that things could be different one day. If only the we could view the world as a child does.

Thank you for that comment and taking the time to write it in English.

to touch a unicorn said...

So hard to believe that happened only 50 years ago. Tragic story Stephen.

Uaridi said...

Bro, I hope you can come visit me today because I featured you on my blog for Blogday 06

Lyrically speaking said...

Wow, I remember reading about this story and I felt such anger especially seeing his body on the casket had me fuming. You've made a great dedication of this account on your blog and I applaud you for it.

Stephen A. Bess said...

He was only a few years older than my parents. This is why I give hime the respect calling him Mister.

I saw it and thank you for that spotlight! You're fantastic!

Thank you sister and this reminds me that I need to go read your words. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

It is very easy to forget. Remembering doesn't necessarily mean reminding someone else, the perpetrator of the heinous crime, or those who think like him or her.

It also means reminding ourselves so we don't mess up end up doing something along the same lines. It's important.

K said...

The fact that yet another day of what is truly American History went by forgotten... reflects so much. How do I expect our children to know their history, when as adults we don't remember to teach them?

Stephen A. Bess said...

Hello and welcome. I'm glad that you said that. My goal here is to educate. Plus, I learn so much in the process during my research on topics. I learn so much. Don't worry because I'm one of the soldiers trying to tell the world about true American history. :) Peace~

Stephen A. Bess said...

I didn't see you at first. Thank you for that. It is important that this is not repeated. I think that it is important for we as Americans to also think globally. This has nothing to do with our foreign policy, but individually we need to consider the suffering of others and do all we can. I know that I haven't done enough. Thanks!

NML/Natalie said...

Thank you for remembering. I felt a tear in my eye reading that.

Stephen A. Bess said...

You're welcome and thank you for reading that.

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