The Emmettt Till Museum

Monday, May 26, 2014

ETHIC: Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center
Last summer, I visited the E.T.H.I.C.: Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center in Glendora, Mississippi.

And if you're wondering if I didn't mean to type 'Interpretive' rather than 'Intrepid' -- it says 'Intrepid' on the museum's sign and literature.

The building is the cotton gin from which the men took the 70-pound fan that was meant to hold Emmett Till's body down in the Tallahatchee River.  Bryant and Milam told William Bradford Huie, in their Look Magazine interview, that the fan was taken from a gin in Boyle, Mississippi which is about a 40 minute drive from Glendora.  If you take into account all the driving that the men said they did that night/morning, there are a lot of inconsistencies.  *And* when secretly recorded in 1985, Bryant said that the gin fan did not come from Boyle.  It seems as though it absolutely did come from this building.

I think admission was something along the lines of $5, and a tour guide showed me around.  While it was not poorly conceived, the material didn't bring anything new to light.  That doesn't mean that you shouldn't go if you're in this part of the Delta, though.  It is a good thing that organizations like this exist and are able to tell the story to others who aren't familiar with it.

The FBI file on the case from 2006 is available, which also sets up some interesting background on the mores of these communities in the '50s.  There's a good amount of detail here, including that Emmett lost his father in Europe in 1945 not due to the war, but because he was executed by the US Army for crimes committed there, and wasn't even brought back to the states for burial (see pg 19 of the report).  Another: Roy Bryant was convicted on food stamp fraud in 1984 and 1988.  One of the other men who was more recently identified as being with Milam and Bryant during the kidnapping of Emmett Till killed another (black) man in 1955 just for filling his car completely with gas rather than just the $3 worth he had asked for (and big surprise, he was acquitted).

The ring Emmett was wearing, and found with in the river, was something Emmett's mother had received in her husband's effects following his execution in Europe.

Also, it's staggering how many people are believed to have had something to do with the murder.  The timeline, beginning on page 35 of the report, is excellent at understanding how everything was put together.

Bryant's Grocery in Money.  We've been here a few times:
Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market, Money MS

Milam's House in Glendora, which is very close to the gin.  Apparently, they beat Emmett Till behind this house.

Milam's House

Milam and Bryant later were interviewed for 'Look' magazine by William Bradford Huie (see pics below on Huie, I've been enamored with his work and visited the library in Hartselle, Alabama which is named in his honor and includes an exhibit on his writings.  His widow, Martha, just passed away last month in Memphis.).  

William Bradford Huie

William Bradford Huie

William Bradford Huie

The January 24, 1955 article was entitled 'The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi' and Bryant and Milam each received $1500 for being interviewed; their lawyers got $1000.

The transcript of the trial against Milam and Bryant begins on page 113 here.  When Bryant and Milam came into Mose Wright's house -- which was about three miles from Bryant's store in Money -- to get Emmett, Emmett was in the bed with Simeon, Mose Wright's son (Simeon is interviewed by Smithsonian Magazine in 2009 after it was announced that the original casket Emmett was in would be on display at the Smithsonian).  Simeon Wright tells the interviewer:

In what ways do you feel that Emmett's story is still relevant today?
You know, it's amazing that he is still relevant. Like I said at the beginning, the reason is because of the jury's verdict. If the jury's verdict had come in guilty, Emmett would have been forgotten about. But [Emmett's story] shows people that if we allow lawlessness to go on, if we do nothing to punish those who break the law, then it's going to get worse. It's going to get worse. And we can look back and say, look what happened to Emmett. He was murdered for no reason, and those in charge did nothing about it. Wherever you have that, whatever city you have that in, it could be in Washington, it could be in New York, where you have murder and crime going on and the people do nothing about it, it's going to increase and destroy your society.

Simeon Wright did an interview with NPR earlier this year.

The trial ends with Bryant and Milam found not-guilty after their lawyers advised the jury that 'Your forefathers will turn over in their graves' if they vote to convict.  In 2007, a grand jury failed to find cause for further prosecution in Emmett Till's murder -- so no charges for anyone, including Caroline Bryant Donham (Bryant's wife who had been offended by Till's actions at the store) who is believed to have positively identified him from the car at Wright's home the night of the kidnapping, were brought.

Emmett's monument is here.  The Mamie Till Mobley Foundation is here.  A school in Chicago is named Emmett Till Math and Science Academy.  A 2011 article on Emmett Till Historical Museum and Mausoleum which was never built largely due to this scandal that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Images from the case here, from Life Magazine.

Jet Magazine, that published the images of Emmett Till's body, will be ending its print edition this month but will continue in digital format.

Mary Juanita Milam, widow of J.W. Milam, passed away in January of this year.  USA Today then ran a piece about the lives of the Milams and Bryants after the case.


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