August, 24th, 1955, a young Chicago boy died in Mississippi. No not 'died', that sounds almost like an accident, like it just sort of happened. It was not accident; white men came for him in the night demanding vengeance over a kid stunt, the crime of whistling at a white woman on a dare.
Emmett Till was a young 14 year old boy visiting his relatives in Mississippi from Chicago. What he didn't understand was he was not visiting another part of the US, he was entering a totally foreign land where being a young black kid not knowing the landscape could cost you your life. On a dare from his cousins, he spoke to the white female clerk at a store. She would later claim Emmett grabbed her, and even whistled at her.
Emmett Till was dragged in the dark from his Uncle's house where he was visiting, pistol whipped in front of his pleading relatives, and then forced to carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan out to the men's truck. They took him to the river, beat him, gouged out his eyes, shot him in the head and then took that same fan and tied it to his neck with barbed wire. Then they shoved his body into the Tallahatchie River.
Everybody knew who did it, Roy Bryant, and J.W. Milam. They had bragged about it before they did it, and even louder afterward; sure of their actions and just as sure no one would do anything about it. After all, the only eyewitnesses against them were black, and a black person's word meant nothing against a white man. We might not have even heard about it, if it hadn't been for the bravery of Emmett's mother, Mamie Bradly, who insisted her son's body be returned to Chicago, and his casket be opened to show the world what two unpunished white men had done to her boy. Jet magazine published the photo of Till's beaten, bloated and barely recognizable corpse in its pages, and followed the trial. The killers were acquitted in less than an hour.
Years later, far too late to save anyone or mean anything but a footnote to history, the woman for whom whose 'honor' Emmett Till was murdered came to forward to admit she lied about the whole incident. Carolyn Bryant lied. She knew what would happen the minute she opened her mouth to spew her poison, she didn't care. She lied. What was the life one more black boy? The world was full of them, they can always make more.
She's sorry. Now.
Today, I remember Emmett Till, and what his death came to stand for, and how we've come a long way on the surface but how we must deal with the unseen eddies and flows, the pits and dropoffs that remain, like those that night in the Tallahatchie River.