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"That's his hazel eye," Mrs. Till said. "Where is the other one?"
March 17, 2006 1:30 PM   Subscribe

That big .45 jumped in Big Milam's hand. The youth turned to catch that big, expanding bullet at his right ear. He dropped. In Money, Mississippi on August 24, 1955, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant abducted 14-year-old Emmet "Bobo" Till, tortured him, shot him in the head, and dumped his body in the river for whistling at a white woman. Emmett's mother insisted on an open-casket funeral so people could see what had happened to her son. On September 15, 1955, Jet magazine published photos [NSFW] of Emmett's corpse, which brought the case national attention and helped ignite the civil rights movement. On September 23, 1955, an all-white jury acquitted Bryant and Milam after deliberating for about an hour. Milam and Bryant confessed in a January 24 , 1966, Look magazine article. Milam died in 1980 and Bryant died in 1990. After reopening the case in 2004 based on new evidence that more people may have been involved, the Justice Department closed the case today without filing any new charges. [more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Bobo: "You bastards, I'm not afraid of you. I'm as good as you are. I've 'had' white women. My grandmother was a white woman."
Milam: "Well, what else could we do?"
It was unusual that the case went to trial at all. More than 500 people had been lynched in Mississippi since 1880, and legal action was rarely taken against whites who committed violence against blacks. A juror at the trial told a reporter that they wouldn't have taken that long if they hadn't stopped to drink pop. Emmett Till's body was exhumed and identified in 1995 (the killers had claimed at the trial that the body wasn't his).

More info: January 1957 Look magazine followup, PBS's The Murder of Emmett Till (timeline), The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till documentary, June 1985 Jet article on how the case jolted "the sleeping giant of Black people," a series of articles from early 1956 that differ from the killers' account and discuss other people's involvement in the murder.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:31 PM on March 17, 2006


And just imagine how my girl feel
On a plane, scared as hell that her guy look like Emmett Till

posted by First Post at 1:41 PM on March 17, 2006


That is just so sad. I'm speachless.
posted by skeeter1 at 1:46 PM on March 17, 2006


I believe this story was the inspiration for Lewis Nordan's novel, Wolf Whistle.
posted by dobbs at 1:47 PM on March 17, 2006


Disgusting, the way it was (maybe still is in some places). Even worse that no one paid for such a horrific crime.
posted by annieb at 1:49 PM on March 17, 2006


Before 1994, all federal criminal civil rights violations carried a five-year statute of limitations, even in cases involving death. In 1994, the law was amended to provide the death penalty in such cases, but the law cannot be applied retroactively, said FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden.

What I find weird about this is, I thought that murder had no statute of limitations... does this mean that the Federal nature of the crime (which could thus lead to FBI involvement) is what is limited?

And this is why the state has to file new charges, right? Please somone tell me this is why charges weren't filed by the FBI.
posted by illovich at 1:51 PM on March 17, 2006


illovich: That's what the CNN story says.
posted by mischief at 1:56 PM on March 17, 2006


An interesting point from the Guardian story:
The new witnesses all say there were around 10 more people involved in the murder than was previously thought, five of whom are still alive today. At least one them is believed to be black.
posted by mischief at 2:01 PM on March 17, 2006


Let's hope for justice at the state level then, eh?
posted by ktoad at 2:08 PM on March 17, 2006


heh.

great y2karl thread here

another thread
posted by matteo at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2006


Till's murder is regrettable, but this isolated incident is in no way indicative of the way white Southerners or white Americans in general treated blacks.

We have to remember that white Southerners went to considerable expense and effort to bring blacks to Christianity and save them from the oppression of Africa. Why doesn't the news media ever present the good news about race relations in the old South? Blacks had full employment and responsible whites to look over them, to oversee them as it were, and make sure they lived useful happy lives. Why is it we never hear about happy blacks singing songs and performing their quaintly child-like dances as they went about their plantation work, assured of lifetime employment?

Till was an outsider who came to a peaceful town where the blacks were perfectly happy, just to whistle at white women and cause trouble. It's unfortunate he was killed, but you can't ignore his culpability. I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.

Till's murder wasn't a policy made in the state capital at Jackson. Some people claim that Till was tortured before his murder, but what has been charged so far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I'm not going to address the "torture" word. We do not torture our blacks.

This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we tried to ruin white people's lives over it. You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?

A few bad apples, a few low-level enlistees murdered Emmet Till. They were tried for their crimes by a jury of their peers. Bringing this up now is just causes more servile insurrection, harms white people, and aids America's enemies.
posted by orthogonality at 2:24 PM on March 17, 2006


ortho:

and think that Mr. Till wasn't even a "top drawer black". ah the audacity! he probably didn't care about white people
posted by matteo at 2:29 PM on March 17, 2006


matteo writes "and think that Mr. Till wasn't even a 'top drawer black'"

Well, slavery sure 'nuff was a godsend for those Africans lucky enough to get a free, ahem, free, Amistad Cruise Permanent Vacation. And God sure is picky -- it took a lucky Negro indeed to survive that Middle Passage. But Hallelujah! Once he got here, a whole new future of civlizin', Christianizin' and full employment awaited him and his heirs unto the seventh generation! Thank the Lord!

Some may be tempted to call out my comparison of Emmet Till's murder to the Abu Ghraib scandal. If so, ask yourself if you think it was likely or not that at the time of Till's murder, a large proportion of America made the same sort of "happy darkie" and "outside agitator" arguments I lampooned so darkly. But what does that have to do with Abu Ghraib? Well, both are cases where mainstream Americans so dehumanized an "enemy" that any sort of treatment of the powerless "enemy" could be justified, excused, or explained away -- even when the "enemy" was guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place when the yahoos in power decided to enforce their "American values".
posted by orthogonality at 2:44 PM on March 17, 2006


I hope the state of Mississippi presses charges if other people were involved, but I think the Justice Department's decision is correct.

Marilyn Nelson reading her poem A Wreath for Emmett Till.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:53 PM on March 17, 2006


So, where's the pony hidden in abu gharib?
posted by cytherea at 5:52 PM on March 17, 2006


Some may be tempted to call out my comparison of Emmet Till's murder to the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Yeah, but the rest of us know it's just stupid.
posted by yerfatma at 8:42 PM on March 17, 2006


Good post, Kirkarcha.
Sweet derail, ortho.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:49 PM on March 17, 2006


orthogonality:

[ re: "Till's murder is regrettable, but this isolated incident is in no way indicative of the way white Southerners or white Americans in general treated blacks.

We have to remember that white Southerners went to considerable expense and effort to bring blacks to Christianity and save them from the oppression of Africa" ]

Could Metafilter use a *sarcasm* tag ?

There are indeed people who write such things in earnest.
posted by troutfishing at 9:15 PM on March 17, 2006


Some may be tempted to call out my comparison of Emmet Till's murder to the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Oh, not so much:

Pistol-whipping: a court-martial offense in the Army... but MP's have been known to do it.... And Milam got information out of German prisoners this way.

It was unusual that the case went to trial at all. More than 500 people had been lynched in Mississippi since 1880, and legal action was rarely taken against whites who committed violence against blacks.

This is both true and misleading. The Till murder was notable because it was an exception when lynching was in decline. In 1952 and 1953 there were no recorded lynchings anywhere in the United States; in 1954 there was one; and in 1955 there were six, including Till. A probable reason his case was so galvanizing was his youth. But it's also interesting in that one might surmise that lynchings suddenly increased again because of fears generated by the rise of the civil rights movement. In fact, two weeks earlier, a black voter-registration activist was murdered in northern Mississippi. This may be why Milam said "I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble." The social fabric of the South had been stable for three or four generations, but it was beginning to unravel. One response to massive social change is extremism.

At least one them is believed to be black

mischief, that isn't at all surprising (and to aficionados of the case, it's never been a secret that a black kid was driving the truck). The local blacks were also invested in the social structure, and Till's violation of the rules coudl have repercussions for them. Not only would it be normal for them to endorse a punishment, they might be happy to mete it out. They might not have chosen the grisly murder route.

Negroes outnumber whites two to one, three to one, four to one, in Delta counties says one of the articles, and with a population imbalance like that, the region would be "ungovernable" without a significant degree of cooperation from the black majority.

Tragedy was building up because they mistook the handicapped boy’s stunned silence as defiance. In their minds he was uppity, because he didn’t grovel and whine.

This, to me, is the saddest part. I know kids just like this. In fact, the irony may be that he wasn't the lothario back in Chicago he passed himself off as -- and what scared the whites. He was just a scared 14-year-old out of his element, unable to communicate at the emotional level desired by his captors, and the whole episode with Carolyn Bryant could easily have been a result of the same social awkwardness. Lord knows when I was at camp aged 14 there was plenty of unlikely bragging, by pretty much everyone. It wasn't just that Till was from the slightly-less-segregated North; he was possibly tone-deaf to the rigid and formalized social system that governed Southern white-black relations.

I don't know that I have any reason to believe this version of events over the more common one of determined defiance, but it seems to make more sense to me.
posted by dhartung at 11:21 PM on March 17, 2006


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