By Stephanie R. Jones
The murder of a 14-year-old black boy in 1955 near Money, Miss., at the hands of white marauders was a galvanizing event in the Civil Rights movement in the state of Mississippi and the nation.
August 29 this year, 2015, marked 60 years since young Emmett Till of Chicago, Illinois, who was visiting family in Mississippi was killed for allegedly “whistling” at a white woman.
Till’s family members and others gathered Friday, August 28, for a commemoration in the Mississippi Delta town where his life was snuffed away. Till was tortured beyond imagination and his body tossed from a bridge.
On Sunday, August 30, the documentary film “Who Killed Emmett Till” was shown at The Nest at Highlites, near Tougaloo College. The film showed what the town of Money was like after Till’s death, explained Mac Epps, program manager of MS Move, a civic engagement organization that focuses on voter registration, among other issues.
Till’s cousin Pricilla Sterling spearheaded efforts to make the commemoration in Money happen. She said it was heartening to see so many people come out and participate in the occasion.
“People want to know what really happened,” said Sterling, whose 11-year-old son Emmett Louis Till Marshall is named after his cousin. He was with his mother Friday along with her grandson 8-month-old Ayden Williams and other family members.
Sterling said people are looking back in history for more understanding of racial tensions happening in the country today.
“People are paying more attention to what’s going on around them today,” she said, referring to the spate of police shooting of young black men. “It’s important that we help them see what happened in 1955 and how it relates today. When people are afraid and don’t know what to do, these are the things that happen.
“Superiority needs to stop. We are seeing racism rearing its ugly head. But people are getting out and saying ‘never again,’” Sterling said.
Sterling and her aunt Anna Laura Williams have created the Emmett Till Justice for Families Foundation to assist families who feel their relatives have suffered injustice based on race and other issues.
The foundation, Sterling said, is a means to keep the conversation about race relations going. It will provide assistance with legal fees to those who may be victimized by racial injustice and put them in contact with resources to aid in their cases.
Often, she said, families don’t know who to contact for help in such situations. “We want to provide them with information, who to call, how to reach out,” Sterling said.
Jackson City Council member De’Keither Stamps attended events in Money. “It deepened my resolve and commitment to the work we are doing today in terms of race relations,” said Stamps, who toured sites related to the Till murder.
“When you hear a story, it’s one thing. But when you see where it happened, it lets us know that the struggle was real.”
Stamps said he visited the store where Till encountered the white woman – and where a historic marker now stands out front, also the barn where Till was tortured, the bridge from which his body was tossed into the Tallahatchie River and the site where Till’s mutilated body washed ashore – weighed down with a 75-pound cotton gin fan.
He said he couldn’t help but think of Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, who insisted on an open casket at his funeral 60 years ago to show the world what had been done to her child.
The photo of young Till in the casket displayed on the cover of Jet Magazine became an iconic symbol of the racial brutality of the Jim Crow Era and the Civil Rights movement.
About 50 people attended Sunday’s showing of the documentary, Epps said. He called Till’s murder an act of domestic terrorism. “But those words weren’t used back then,” Epps said.
He said the nation is still dealing with the culture of oppression that existed at the time of Till’s death. “It’s still happening today, the notion of ‘staying in one’s place,’ ” Epps said. “And it’s still destroying our youth today,” he said.
Two white men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were arrested just after the abduction of Till. They went on trial for murder on Sept. 19, 1955, but an all-white jury acquitted them five days later.
The Till murder remains one of the most brutal in American history, and the trial verdict is considered one of the nation’s great injustices.
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at email@example.com or (601) 454-0372.