By Frederick H. Lowe
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, which was founded to keep alive the memory of Emmett Till, has restored Sumner Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, where an all-white male jury acquitted two men for the brutal murder of the 14-year-old on September 23, 1955, 62 years ago this month.
The jury let Roy Bryant, 24, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, 36, walk free for Till’s violent death. Till was murdered on August 24, 1955.
Bryant and Milam kidnapped Till from a bedroom he shared with Simeon Wright, his 12year-old cousin. They beat Till and then shot him for allegedly whistling at and touching Carolyn Bryant, Roy’s wife, an action punishable by death for black boys and men in the segregated South.
The alleged incident occurred in Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money, Mississippi. The store’s primary customers were black men and women who picked cotton in the fields near the store.
Sixty-two years later, Carolyn Bryant admitted she lied at the trial about Emmett Till’s behavior.
After the two men killed Emmett Till, they tied a 70-pound cotton gin fan to him and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River, certain his corpse would sink into the muddy bottom and never be discovered.
Miraculously, the body floated to the water’s surface. Emmett Till’s great-uncle, Mose Wright, told police that he had seen Bryant and Milam take Till from his home. The two men were
arrested and charged with his murder. Following a five-day trial, the jury deliberated 67 minutes before acquitting Bryant and Milam. Both men later confessed to the murder during a Look magazine interview for which they were paid $3,600 to $4,000.
The two men learned there was price to pay for murdering Emmett Till although it didn’t occur in court.
Following Bryant’s and Milam’s acquittals, blacks boycotted Bryant’s store, forcing it to go out of business in October 1955.
The trial took place in Sumner Courthouse, which the interpretive center restored and promotes in part by offering tours of the building and showing black and white newsreels of trial reportage. In one filmed image, the Bryants, Milam, and the jurors, all dressed in short-sleeve white shirts, are looking out of an open second-story window of the courthouse.
The interpretive center raised $3 million for the courthouse renovation, making it possible to restore the building and create a museum. Center officials hope it will attract tourists to the area.
Emmett Till’s memory was alive in Rosa Parks’ mind, when police arrested her on a Montgomery, Alabama bus for refusing to relinquish a seat designated for white passengers and move to the section of the bus intended for black riders. Her arrest sparked the successful year-long 1955 Montgomery Bus boycott that desegregated the city’s public transportation system.
Parks said she refused to give up her seat because she was thinking about what happened to Emmett Till.
Elected representatives of Tallahatchie County, where the courthouse is located, officially apologized to Till’s relatives for the trial’s outcome.