Note: A true story with my perspective. Some real quotes stated by real people. Harsh/sad actions and rude/offensive words.
You all might have heard the story of a 14-year-old black boy that got killed by white men because he flirted with a white woman. That lynching isn't just a story. It's my story. I'm that African American boy who got killed... I'm Emmett Till.
August 24, 1955
"Aye Till! Where you goin' boy? Ain't I tell you and yo cousin to go off to the market and get me some eggs and milk? Go on boy."
"Yes sir. Be back in a jiffy."
I find my coz in the field loading Uncle’s crops into a bag for his landowner.
"Let's get a goin'. Ya pops said we gotta go to da market or he finna whoop us."
"He ain't say all dat."
"Yeah, you right. Race ya."
We raced all the way down the block. Legs kicking the dirt off the ground. We stopped in front of Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market. I haven't been in Money, Mississippi for long. Moved down to visit my fam, so I don't know the area much, but we came down here, to the store, almost every day.
"It's real hot over here."
"Yeah, but you ain't stayin' for long. I heard it's nice over there in the Centennial State."
"She's a beauty."
"Really? I ain't know you liked Colorado dat bad."
"No, not Colorado, dummy. I mean her," I said pointing my head in the direction of a beautiful white woman inside the shop.
"Oh, nuh-uh, mister. You can't have dat. Not unless you want the KKK and night riders up your ass."
"I ain't scared of nothin'."
I made my way to the fine-looking young lady, leaving Simeon outside. Of course, she looked way older than me, but hey what I gotta lose.
"How about a date, baby?" I asked grabbing her hand while she stocked up bubble gum.
She shook off my grasp and went to the cash register. I grabbed her waist and asked, "What's the matter baby, can't you take it?"
She shimmed my hands off her waist and backed away.
"You needn't be afraid of me, baby. I've been with white women before."
"You better get out of her you Negro! Beat it or I'll beat you!" some man yelled behind the counter.
Simeon grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the store. The lady followed us out and went to her car, getting a pistol. We were scared and were told to run. We decided to not tell Mose about what happened at the store. All these things happened. The assault, fresh talk, and touching… Well, that's what the pretty lady said anyways. I'm getting ahead of it all though.
August 28, 1955
I wanted to go back to Chicago with my Ma, Mamie. My Ma warned be ‘bout the folks down here in Mississippi. Told me Chicago and Mississippi were two totally different worlds. I can’t blame her. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. Boy was she pretty though. Reminded me of a Southern Belle. I heard she spread rumors ‘bout what happened down at da shop. Ain’t nothing happened. I didn’t do nun. I also heard her husband was in Texas and came yesterday. I was afraid he would come over here telling me something about stayin’ away from his lady, but sadly that was not even close to what happened.
Out the window, I saw a green pickup truck driving through the path of rocks in front of my Uncle’s house. My Uncle went out the front porch and talked to the two men.
“You got some boys that came down from Chicago?”
“Yeah. What’s it to you?”
“Don’t get smart with me Negro. Show me to the Nigger boy who did the talking to my girl.”
“Till don’t know no better. Things are different from over there than here in the South.”
“How old are you, preacher?”
“Well preacher you're not gonna live to see 65 if you don’t tell that boy to come down here now!”
My Uncle goes into the house and calls me down.
“Bobo, come down here son.”
I went downstairs like my Uncle told me. I stood in front of two tall white men staring down at me. One of the men in front of me pulled me by the elbow and dragged me to the green truck.
The man pushed me into the house.
“Put your shoes on, boy. You got no business talking to a white lady. You scum. Blacks ain’t got no business hollering to beautiful women like mine.”
“At least let me put my socks on.”
He grabbed me by my ear and told me that I better listen to what he said. The men tied me up and put me in their green truck and drove away from my family. We went to Bryant’s store and picked up two men like myself. Remind me of puppy dog slaves. Scared of their white owners. Gotta listen to what they say or else. We passed by a boy. Willie Reed. I give some thanks to that kid. Having the balls to go off and tell people what he heard, men beating me and me crying out loud. If it weren’t for dat kid and his neighbor no one would have questioned Bryant or his half-brother, Milam.
They beat me. Had blood all over their colorless hands.
“We’re gonna beat you ‘til you're shaken in your boots. We're gonna toss you into the river and teach you a lesson. You can swim your way back home.”
“Y'all are some bastards. I’m as good as you are. I ain't scared. I had encounters with white women before. They love me. Just seems like your vanilla dont like some chocolate.”
They got furious. They drove to the cotton gin to steal a 70-pound fan. I don’t know what a fan gonna do. They can’t blow black people away. We always gonna fight back.
“We better not get caught with stealing this piece of crap.”
They beat me some more and knocked me out. We drove for miles. I finally woke up and found myself being dragged by the Tallahatchie River. My body would be found days later attached to the fan, decomposed, shot in the head, lumped up and bruised, and missing an eye.
My Uncle waited for me. He waited until I got home that night, but I never came back. He drove to try to find me but never discovered where I’ve been. My other cousin, Curtis Jones, phoned the sheriff of my disappearance and called my Ma. George Smith, the county sheriff, questioned both Bryant and Milam, but they lied to him. They got arrested for kidnapping me, tho and soon everyone knew of me missing. The NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, became involved and everyone wanted to know what happened to the 14-year-old black boy.
I was found. Two boys who were fishing and found my body. A disfigured blob. Tied by barbed wire around my neckline. Unrecognizable and naked, but wearing a ring which my Uncle identified as mine.
Lynching and racism were very serious around the time I was allegedly killed. You would see innocent black people hung by trees surrounded by crowds of white people with smiles stretched out across their pale skins. My death ripped people open. On September 3rd, tears flowed down those who saw me in my casket. My Ma, lookin' down upon me. I love you, Ma. You're my hero. You had me stay the same. Had others see what white men could do to a young boy. The Jim Crow Laws were a mess. It took over and segregated everyone. Colored on one side and whites on the other.
September of 1955
My case was held at a courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. Blacks weren’t allowed to be juries in lots of places in the South due to them not caring about our opinions. Regardless of this, many Africans were on my side. My Uncle pointed my killers and my Cousin testified against false talk.
“J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant died with Emmett Till's blood on their hands and it looks like everyone else who was involved is going to do the same. They had a chance to come clean. They will die with Emmett Till's blood on their hands.”
Simeon wasn’t right, at first.
The court announced Bryant and Milam to be not guilty. They got awarded big bucks to testify the truth to Look magazine. They told journalist William Huie everything.
“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live. If they did, they'd control the government. They ain't gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. 'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.”
Roy Bryant’s wife, Carolyn Bryant, told the truth after she told the lies. She said that I never did the touching parts and that much of what she said was a lie.
Pretty girls sure can be devious.
After the truth was out there, a second trial still couldn’t be held to charge them guilty. Many people hated Bryant and Milam. Bryant’s life became real tough. He went to Texas and things didn't go so well. He was being ignored by black workers and others. Carolyn and Bryant got a divorce. Bryant wanted to be private. He was scared and denied killing me even tho he already admitted to sayin’ otherwise.
"This new generation is different and I don't want to worry about a bullet some dark night.”
I see all these changes up where I am.
The next generation was fierce. Protestors everywhere. Blacks screaming for freedom and the right to vote. They demanded to be heard. Some were peaceful and some were violent.
Simeon was now right... because Bryant died of cancer.
My case tried to reopen and find any live assailants, but nothin’ new came up, but my story lived on.
“I thought about Emmett Till, and I couldn’t go back,” Rosa Parks said. Rosa Parks didn't go back. She sat down on that seat and refused to give it to any white man. Surprised any white man would want a black-rowed seat anyway.
“...the crying voice of a little Emmett C. Till, screaming from the rushing waters in Mississippi,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. He gave speeches of wanting equality for his people. He spoke about me... One of the victims sought out by another white man.
Books were written about me like The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson and movies were made like My Nephew Emmett by director Kevin Wilson Jr. I've been taught in schools and spoke about on the news. I'm Emmett Till and my story will be a part of those African Americans who died.
I stand next to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many more who died and are going to continue dying. Let us remember my story and that African Americans are Americans too.