Quantcast
Connect with us

60 years ago today, Emmett Till whistled at a white woman — and he was executed for it four days later

Published

on

Sixty years ago Monday, Emmett Till flirted with a white woman to impress his friends — setting in motion his brutal murder that propelled the civil rights movement into action.

The 14-year-old was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he and some other boys, finished picking cotton, stopped Aug. 24, 1955, outside a country store in Money.

The teen, whose mother called him “Bo,” bragged to the other boys that he had a white girlfriend back home in Chicago — and his friends dared him to speak to the woman working behind the counter.

A 12-year-old cousin briefly went inside but left Emmett alone with the woman — the wife of the store’s owner — for about a minute.

Carolyn Bryant, then 21, claimed Emmett had grabbed her, made lewd comments and wolf-whistled at her as he left the store, but cousin Simeon Wright recalled decades later that couldn’t have been possible.

“I don’t know what he said, but when I was in there, he said nothing to her,” said Wright, now 72. “He didn’t have time, she was behind the counter, so he didn’t put his arms around her or anything like that. While I was in there he said nothing, but after we left the store, we both walked out together, she came outside going to her car. As she was going to her car, he did whistle at her. That’s what scared her so bad. The only thing that I saw him do was that he did whistle.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The boy, whose mother had warned him about the “Jim Crow” South, understood what he had done after he saw how terrified the other boys were and he begged them not to tell his uncle, Wright said.

Bryant told her husband about the incident when he returned home from a business trip a couple of days later, and Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, went early on Aug. 28, 1955, to the home of Emmett’s great-uncle and kidnapped the boy.

“My mother came in there pleading with them not to take Emmett,” said Wright, who had been sleeping alongside his cousin. “At that point, she offered them money. One of the men, Roy Bryant, he kind of hesitated at the idea, but J.W. Milam — he was a mean guy. He was the guy with the gun and the flashlight, (and) he wouldn’t hear of it. He continued to have Emmett put his clothes on. Then, after Emmett was dressed, they marched him out of the house into a truck that was waiting outside. When they got out to the truck, they asked the person inside the truck, ‘Was this the right boy.’ A lady’s voice responded that it was.”

The pair pistol-whipped Emmett in a tool shed and then forced him to carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the back of the Tallahatchie River, where they ordered him to strip off his clothes.

ADVERTISEMENT

The men continued beating Emmett, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head and dumped his body — tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire — into the river.

His mutilated body was recovered three days later, and his great-uncle was able to identify his remains only by spotting an initialed ring the boy had worn.

Local authorities tried to quickly bury his body, but Emmett’s mother, Mamie Bradley, requested her son’s remains be sent home to Chicago — where she held an open-casket funeral to show the world what had happened to her son.

“She wanted to world to see what those men had done to her son because no one would have believed it if they didn’t the picture or didn’t see the casket,” Wright recalled. “No one would have believed it — and when they saw what happened, this motivated a lot of people that were standing, what we call ‘on the fence,’ against racism. It encouraged them to get in the fight and do something about it. That’s why many say that that was the beginning of the civil rights era.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The black weekly Jet magazine published a photo of the boy’s disfigured remains, and other publications picked up the story and reported the murder and the brief trial just two weeks later.

Milam and Bryant were acquitted on murder charges Sept. 23, 1955, after jurors deliberated for less than an hour, explaining that the state had failed to prove the identity of the remains, and the state never indicted them on kidnapping charges.

Look magazine paid Bryant and Milam more than $3,600 for an interview about the case, and the men proudly admitted to killing the boy — who they said deserved death for lascivious behavior toward a white woman.

“What else could we do? He was hopeless,” Milam explained in the interview. “I’m no bully; I never hurt a n****r in my life. I like n****rs — 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, n****rs are gonna stay in their place.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“N****rs ain’t gonna vote where I live,” Milam added. “If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a n****r 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 n****r 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.'”

Milam described how he and his brother-in-law had driven Emmett, who was badly beaten but still defiant, to a steep riverbank — and that’s where the racist white man first felt fear.

“When we got to that (cotton) gin, it was daylight — and I was worried for the first time,” Milam recalled. “Somebody might see us and accuse us of stealing the fan.”

He asked Emmett one more time whether he believed he was as good as a white man, and he said he was, and he asked if he had ever been with a white woman, and he again said he had.

ADVERTISEMENT

The World War II veteran shot the boy once behind the ear with the .45 he had brought home from the U.S. Army.

Milam and Bryant became pariahs after the interview was published, and each man faced financial trouble for the rest of their lives due to their notoriety.

The boy’s murder came one year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” laws as unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education — and the acquittal of his killers motivated Rosa Parks to remain seated at the front of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus.

“You know, it’s amazing that he is still relevant,” said Wright in a 2009 interview. “Like I said at the beginning, the reason is because of the jury’s verdict. If the jury’s verdict had come in guilty, Emmett would have been forgotten about. But (Emmett’s story) shows people that if we allow lawlessness to go on, if we do nothing to punish those who break the law, then it’s going to get worse.”

“It’s going to get worse, and we can look back and say, look what happened to Emmett,” Wright continued. “He was murdered for no reason, and those in charge did nothing about it. Wherever you have that, whatever city you have that in, it could be in Washington, it could be in New York, where you have murder and crime going on and the people do nothing about it, it’s going to increase and destroy your society.”

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

‘This is ridiculous’: ex-prosecutor rips Democrats for not even swearing-in Hope Hicks before her testimony

Published

on

The House Judiciary Committee failed in how they went about interviewing Hope Hicks, the longtime Trump advisor who rose to White House communications director.

On Thursday, the committee released a 273-page transcript of Hicks testimony behind closed doors.

For analysis, MSNBC "Hardball" anchor Chris Matthews interviewed former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne.

Lawyers representing Hicks repeatedly objected to her answer questions.

"What is this thing, this word objection? This is loaded, all this wasted paper, a lot of this paper simply has the word objection on it," Matthews said, holding up a 271-page printout of Hicks' transcript.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Hope Hicks told Congress that Trump has cut her out of his life — he virtually never calls her anymore

Published

on

Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks was broadly considered to be one of President Donald Trump's favorite staffers.

But when she left the administration in 2018, the president virtually cut off ties to her, and has only spoken with her five times since then, according to the transcript of the closed-door hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday:

In her interview, Hope Hicks says she has only spoken to Trump between five and ten times since she left the White House in February 2018. (He used to call that much in a day.) They last spoke in April, when they had dinner. Our story from yesterday:https://t.co/3gzVY21c3z pic.twitter.com/VMZqhnbgib

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Elections regulator warns foreign intrusion into US campaigns is already happening

Published

on

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Federal Elections Commission is warning that there is already foreign intrusion in the U.S. campaigns.

FEC chair Ellen L. Weintraub was forced to issue a statement after President Donald Trump said that he wasn't sure what he would do if a foreign government approached him with "dirt" on his political opponent. He said that he "might" tell the FBI but would likely hear what they had to say. He said that it wasn't illegal, but Weintraub issued a statement reiterating that it is illegal.

"I am particularly concerned about the risk of illicit funds and foreign support influencing our political system. Foreign dark money represents a significant vulnerability for American democracy. We do not know the extent to which our political campaigns receive foreign dark money, but we do know that the political money can be weaponized by well-funded hostile powers," the letter warned.

Continue Reading
 
 

Copyright © 2019 Raw Story Media, Inc. PO Box 21050, Washington, D.C. 20009 | Masthead | Privacy Policy | For corrections or concerns, please email [email protected]

I need your help.

Investigating Trump's henchmen is a full time job, and I'm trying to bring in new team members to do more exclusive reports. We have more stories coming you'll love. Join me and help restore the power of hard-hitting progressive journalism.

TAKE A LOOK
close-link

Investigating Trump is a full-time job, and I want to add new team members to do more exclusive reports. We have stories coming you'll love. Join me and go ad-free, while restoring the power of hard-hitting progressive journalism.

TAKE A LOOK
close-link