Students learn about Emmett Till and the importance of justice

Emmett Louis Till

From Alcorn State University

MONEY – “I am Emmett Till and I stand for justice,” chanted 11 emotional high school students standing in the rain in front of what was once known as Bryant’s Grocery Store in Money, Mississippi, where a 14-year-old black youth was brutally killed by white murderers who escaped justice.

Pictured: Scholars reading the commemorative sign at the former Bryant's Grocery Store site in Money, Mississippi. (Alcorn State photo)

The journey to the historic site in July was a part of the Alcorn State University Children Defense Fund Freedom School project for high school-aged students. They read the book “Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case” and watched the PBS video documentary before traveling to the place where the astonishing story took place.

“I remember reading the book as a servant leader intern and being appalled at the fact that I was learning of this critical moment in American history for the first time in my life – and I was college student. None of my American history and African American history classes mentioned Till at all,” shared Gralon Johnson, special assistant to the president at Alcorn and co-executive director of the CDF Freedom School program. “So, when the decision was made for high school-aged students to participate in Alcorn’s Freedom School program, I realized that it was a perfect opportunity to expose and connect our scholars to Till’s story in a meaningful and lasting way.”

Till's tortured and battered body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River on Aug. 28, 1955.

Johnson further said Level 4 scholars participating in the CDF Freedom Schools all across the United States are reading the book.

“We are hopeful that the scholars learned the importance of history and how it contributes to our everyday lives,” stated Alcorn Student Engagement Director Valerie Thompson, Ph.D., co-executive director of the program.

“We want them to remember that the tragedy of Emmett Till was real. And, it is their responsibility to share his story with their school mates and families telling them how reliving the history made them feel and how it impacted them emotionally and educationally,” stated Project Director Dr. Carrie Ford, interim chair of the Department of Human Sciences.

All that remains of Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market is this shell of a building in Money, Miss. Despite the outward skeletal apperance of the structure, people still get an eerie feeling standing where the tragedy of Emmett Till first began 57 years ago. (Photo by Monica Land)

“Visiting the actual place in Money, Mississippi, made me realize that Emmett’s story really happened,” said Destanie Course, 12th grader from Lorman, Mississippi. “He was just a little boy who didn’t mean any harm. I can’t imagine he meant any harm or disrespect, but the people who killed him got away with it. Life was so hard for African Americans back then and I am so happy things are different now.”

Delvin Booker, an 11th grader from Bude, Mississippi, agreed with Destanie and added, “Things are different now because of the people who fought for justice. They fought for freedom and for all the blessings that we enjoy now. I will try not to take for granted the things we have now. We sometimes complain about studying like we don’t want to do it, but in the past people fought and died for a chance to go to school.”

“Considering the utmost importance of Till’s story, we decided to put together a documentary depicting this project,” said Gralon Johnson. “We believe that this video will bring fresh insight to Emmett’s story as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of standing for justice, even as a young person, in a way that will be eye-opening for other teenagers throughout the state and nation.”