Those Who Cannot Remember The Past...
By Jocelyn Geboy in News on Mar 1, 2007 6:00PM
In the summer of 1955, 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till was visiting his aunt and uncle in Mississippi. He and his cousin, Wheeler Parker, Jr. were over at Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market. Emmett offhandedly whistled at a woman as he was leaving the store. For those unfamiliar with the story, Emmett was black, the woman is white. We use the mixed tense, because the woman, Carolyn Bryant is still alive. She is 73 years old, and just had a manslaughter charge brought up against her related to the brutal kidnapping and murder of one said Emmett Till.
After Emmett whistled at her, she got pretty upset. But things didn't get way fucked up until her husband returned home several days later and he and some friends kidnapped Emmett from his uncle's home in the middle of the night and beat him to death, sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River. His body was recovered several days later.
Emmett's body was eventually brought back to Chicago to his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, who forced the Chicago funeral home to open the casket so she could see her son. When she saw the condition of her son's body, she left the casket open for the funeral so everyone could see what had happened. The pictures were printed in magazines and papers for the country to see and spurred strong public reaction.
Carolyn's husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J.W. Milan, were eventually brought before a jury, but they were acquitted (by a jury of 12 white men) in about an hour. This enraged people even more and helped fuel the fire of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. In 2004, the FBI and the Department of Justice decided to re-open the case, but ended up turning the case over to local prosecutors, saying the statute of limitations for federal charges had run out. We thought there was no statute of limitations on murder, but we admit we've always watched too many law and medical oriented shows on TV.
Our hearts sank as the Tribune reported that last Friday a grand jury in LeFlore County, Mississippi, brought back a verdict of "no bill" against Carolyn Bryant Donham for the charge of manslaughter in relation to the murder of Emmett Till. The no bill verdict means there was insufficient evidence (the two aforementioned men confessed to the crime in a 1956 magazine interview in Look Magazine, where they showed no remorse for their actions.
We can't believe that things are as Emmett's cousin remarked, "the same way it was 50 years ago." We can only hope that by remembering incidents like these, we must never let ideologies of hate and fear dominate us, lest we turn into the kind of monsters that would brutally murder a little boy for nothing more than a harmless whistle.
Image via www.depauw.edu