Sixty years ago this past weekend an event took place in Money, Mississippi that helped unleash a pent-up anger that resulted in the modern civil rights movement. A couple of degenerate racist white men, in the name of preserving Southern tradition, tortured and beat to death an innocent black child whose only crime was speaking to a white woman in a direct manner. This “boy” didn’t realize heritage required he lower his head and look away when addressing “white folk.”
The victim, Emmett Till, was a fifteen year old boy from Chicago who was spending the summer with his grandfather, Mose Wright, in Mississippi. He and friends had been playing across the road from a white owned country grocery store and Till entered the store and said something to the owner’s wife in a way that violated the codes that held blacks to be subservient to whites.
Later that evening the woman’s husband and another man arrived at Mose Wrights’s home and drove off with Till in their car. Several days later Till’s beaten and mutilated remains were discovered floating in the Tallahatchie River with a bullet hole in his head.
The two killer’s were arrested and charged with the murder but Mississippi being Mississippi in 1955 an all-white male jury found them innocent after a very brief deliberation. Months later a national magazine paid the two killers for their story and knowing they were safe they freely confessed to killing Till and graphically related their actions.
Till’s grandfather, Mose Wright, did what few blacks would dare to do in those days. During the brief trial he was asked if the man who had taken Emmett away was in the court room. The old black man rose, pointed his finger at the killer and said, “Dar he.” To protect his life Wright told reporters, “I done quit Mississippi,” and immediately left the state.
There have been few stories that have affected me as much as the story of Mose Wright and Emmett Till. I have visited Money, MS on two occasions just to see for myself where this savagery took place. It is so small and nondescript it’s hard to believe anything so evil could have taken place there. On my second visit I took my grandson just to tell him this story and show him that place in the hope that he would be one of those who helped keep Till’s story alive and remind others of what man is capable of if allowed to believe some are superior to others.
Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, took the body back to Chicago and had it placed in state in an open coffin. Over 100,000 people passed by in the course of a few days and the picture of Emmett’s mutilated face appeared in many of the nation’s publications. Many Americans, for the first time, came face to face with what had been a centuries old way of life in America’s South.
Out of this came a unity among blacks, and whites, that these things could no longer be tolerated and thus names like Fanny Lou Hammer, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King, Jr. became familiar to all Americans.
We as a people have come very far since that time in Money, Mississippi. But unfortunately the war hasn’t been won. Just this past week shouts of “white power” could be heard at a Donald Trump rally in Alabama and a Trump spokesperson spun it off by saying Trump’s followers were just “enthusiastic.” Just this past week the American documentarian, Ken Burns, stated that words like “birthright citizenship” are simply a more sophisticated means of saying nigger. The election of our first African-American president, Barack Obama, was for most Americans a symbol of both pride and progress. But unfortunately it brought the racist among us out of their holes and armed with the angry rhetoric of the Donald Trumps they now feel free to spew forth their hatred.