NBC Narrator Rosalind Jordan looks back at the story of Emmett Till, who was 14 when he left Chicago to visit his family in the segregated South. Two white men accused Till of making a pass at Bryant's wife, Carolyn, and Till was brutally murdered.
The Story of Emmett Till
ROSALIND JORDAN reporting: Emmett Till was 14 when he left Chicago to visit his family in the segregated South. On an August night in the Mississippi Delta, his cousin Simeon Wright, watched as two white men dragged Till at gunpoint out of their bedroom. JW Milam and Roy Bryant had accused Till of making a pass at Bryant’s wife, Carolyn.
SIMEON WRIGHT: They walked out with him as if… as the sayin’ going… sheep to the slaughter.
JORDAN: Three days later Tills body turned up in the Tallahatchie River. He had been so badly beaten that his mother demanded an open casket funeral so that people could see just what had been done to her son. Local report Bill Minor said the case opened Americans’ eyes to racial hatred in the South.
BILL MINOR: The Till case for the first time I think meant that you could not any longer have a good, quiet lynching in Mississippi without the world knowing about it.
JORDAN: An all-white jury acquitted Milam and Bryant who later admitted they killed Till.
Trial observer, resident BETTY PEARSON: I think that in the White community and in the Black community there was deep regret that the verdict had been innocent.
JORDAN: Nearly fifty years later Emmett Till’s case has inspired three new books and two new documentaries.
“The Murder of Emmett Till,” PBS American Experience, STANLEY NELSON: I thought it needed to be told, I felt that people were forgetting, I talked to people and they would be like, “Emmett who?”
JORDAN: In the past few years there has been a push in the South to reopen old cases of racial injustice—notably, the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham Alabama. Those behind the new films about Emmett Till, they hope to do the same thing.
NELSON: We found people who should have testified at the trial who were scared to testify.
JORDAN: Another filmmaker, Keith Beauchamp, also wants the case reopened.
Filmmaker KEITH BEAUCHAMP: Well everyone felt that these two men, White men, were the only ones involved. In fact that was not the case, there was actually five White men, through my research that I found that was actually involved as well as five Black men.
JORDAN: Both defendants are dead now, but Simeon Wright says that the new publicity makes a difference.
SIMEON WRIGHT: The Sate of Mississippi, the Justice System of Mississippi, did my family wrong and did Emmett Till wrong… they haven’t apologized to this day.
JORDAN: Without and apology, all Simeon Wright has is the memory of that August night. Rosalind Jordan, NBC News, Tallahatchie Country, Mississippi.
MONEY, Miss. — Two vans, escorted by local sheriff's deputies, traveled deep into the Mississippi Delta. Through endless stretches of corn and cotton. It was early afternoon when they arrived at the dilapidated grocery store.
"Is this it?" one of the travelers asked.
The building was barely standing, covered in thick weeds and ivy. Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market, once the centerpiece of Money, a bustling town of 400. In 1955, it was the site of 14-year-old Emmett Till's fatal crime — whistling at a white woman.