Summer is generally the favorite season of the year for a lot of people. It allows them to take time from work and spend it with their families that they would not normally have while their children are in school. All of us have that place that we like to go when we have time for a family vacation. For some people it is the mountains while for others it is the beach. In the summer of 1955 a fourteen year old African American kid from Chicago was visiting Mississippi when he found himself in a dangerous situation that he would never walk away from. His name was Emmett Till. What happened to him was wrong. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and had an altercation with the wrong white woman. Her name was Carolyn Bryant. Emmett Till was lynched, shot, and tortured before he was finally killed. A heavy cotton gin fan was tied around his neck with barbwire when Emmett Till’s body was removed from the Tallahatchie River days after he had been killed by the husband of Carolyn Bryant, Roy Bryant and his brother in law J.W. Milam.
The trial that followed lasted only 19 days. When it was Carolyn Bryant’s turn to deliver testimony before a jury of her husbands and brothers peers she stained her hands in the blood of Emmett Till as she lied on the stand instead of speaking the truth. When she delivered her testimony at the trial she claimed that Emmett Till had came into the general store where she worked and assaulted her. She claimed that he grabbed her wrist and then when she got away from him he chased her down the counter where he grabbed her waist. The testimony that she delivered in the courtroom took a situation that occurred and made it sound much worse than it actually was. Her initial description of her altercation with Emmett Till never mentioned violence or an attempted rape. Instead in her initial statement she simply said that Till said something to her that she did not like which was corroborated by her husband Roy when he said that the African American teenager had only said something offensive to his wife, but hadn’t tried to rape her.
Although there were tensions between white Americans and African Americans in the south in the 1950’s there were still certain lines that one did not cross unless they found themselves in specific situations. Even in the middle of the south it was understood that not all offenses warranted killing someone. As misguided those standards were even white people in the south had a code of standards. This was something that Roy Bryant understood. When Roy Bryant and his brother in law J.W. Tilam attacked Emmett Till after he felt the fourteen year old from Chicago disrespected his wife it was only his intent to beat him. He wanted to hurt him. There was no intent to end his life at first. It was only after Emmett Till did not show remorse for insulting his wife that Roy Bryant made the decision to kill him. This does not mean it was okay that he killed the African American teenager. Like I said a few minutes ago. There were a set of unwritten codes that one just did not cross. In the eyes of many white people in the south it was not okay to kill an African American over words alone.
The trial was a charade. In 1955 Mississippi, there was no way that an all white jury would find two white men who killed an African American teenager guilty for their crime. While the trial itself lasted 19 days it only took the all white jury less than an hour to come back with a verdict of not guilty. It would not have mattered who the prosecuting attorney was. A guilty verdict just was not going to happen, because good civilized white people just did not do that sort of thing. The civilized white people of Money, Mississippi were heroes who were trying to keep African Americans at a distance instead of letting them mix with our own race.
It has been sixty three years since Emmett Till was attacked and killed by Roy Bryant. The fourteen year old African American teenager is still being attacked even today. 35 days ago a replacement sign was put in the spot marking where Till’s body had been pulled from the river. The sign that marks this dark historic spot in the history of Mississippi has been attacked by gunfire, again. This was the third sign that was placed where Emmett Till’s body had been found in the river. The first sign had been stolen. The second one was destroyed by gunfire. According to Patrick Weems there is a lot more going on here than just a sign being attacked.
The attacks that have been done against the sign that was placed by the river where Emmett Till’s body had been recovered has become a beacon of racist violence and shows that relations between white people and African Americans really have not improved that much in Mississippi over the last sixty three years. Patrick Weems told news media, “we didn’t deal with the root reasons in 1955. And we’re still having to deal with that. The same systems that allowed these signs to be vandalized are the same systems that allowed Emmett Till to be murdered.”
While the signs that have been put up in honor of Emmett Till starting back in 2008 have found themselves repeatedly attacked the barn where the teenager from Chicago was lynched and killed remains untouched. Most of today’s young adults in Mississippi don’t even know the historical significance of that barn which is what makes the signs that honor Emmett Till that much more important. There is no way that these attacks can be random because of where the sign is located. The sign can be found 10 minutes outside of town and 2 miles down a gravel road. That means that the people who are responsible for attacking the sign of Emmett Till really want to attack that sign.
The truth is that people can replace the sign over and over again, but all replacing the sign does is sweep the real issues underneath the carpet and allows the people of Mississippi to pretend that the real issues don’t exist. The same way that they pretended these issues didn’t exist when Roy Bryant and his brother in law were found not guilty. Replacing the sign does more than replace a sign. It allows deeply ingrained hatred to go back into hiding and for people to pretend that it doesn’t exist until that hate rises to the surface again and leaves behind evidence that it has not really gone anywhere at all.