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Justice for Emmett Till: Killers to stand trial

For The Madera Tribune

Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till, are shown here just before the youth’s murder.


Sixty-six years have passed since that August night in 1955 when J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant kidnapped, tortured, and murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till. The pair of white racists perpetrated their heinous hate crime because the young African-American had allegedly whistled at a white woman in Money, Mississippi.

Both men were identified, arrested, and stood trial for the crime in Sumner, Mississippi and were acquitted by a jury of 12 white men. A few months later, protected by the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy, they admitted their guilt in a Look Magazine interview for which they were paid several thousand dollars.

Now, after more than six decades, the pair will stand trial again, this time in the old Madera County Courthouse. They will be prosecuted in absentia by two classes of Madera Unified 8th graders from Eastin-Arcola and La Vina Schools.

Students in Samuel Colunga and Scott Gandy’s classes have been studying the case and gathering evidence which they will present to a jury in early spring.

The student research has led them to uncover the gastly details of the horrendous crime. On August 21, 1955, young Emmett left his home in Chicago to visit relatives in Money. Four days later, in the company of three cousins, he went to Bryant’s store to purchase some candy. Twenty-one-year-old Carolyn Bryant was behind the counter, and Emmett looked at her and whistled, not knowing that this was a serious violation of social protocol in rigidly segregated Mississippi.

Emmett and his cousins hurriedly left the store and returned home. After three days had passed, the boys forgot the incident, but Roy Bryant didn’t. When his wife told him about the occurrence, he contacted Milam, his half-brother, and laid out a plan. They would teach the black child a lesson.

At 2:00 on the morning of August 28, Bryant and Milam went to the home of Mose Wright, Emmett’s great uncle, and demanded to see Emmett. They dragged him out of bed, put him in the back of a pickup truck and sped away. No one ever saw Emmett Till alive again. Three days later, they found his mutilated body in the Tallahatchie River.

Emmett’s remains were returned to Chicago where they held an open casket funeral. His face was almost unrecognizable. One eye had been gouged out, most of his teeth had been knocked out, and an ear was gone. He had been shot through the head.

Back in Mississippi, Mose Wright went to the sheriff and identified Bryant and Milam as the killers. They were arrested and tried. It took the all-white jury just 65 minutes to find them not guilty.

Although both Bryant and Milam are dead, the Madera students are pressing ahead in their effort to hold them accountable. The Madera Courthouse trial will include a jury of local adults and a judge. The student prosecutors are certain they will get a guilty verdict and in doing so, set the historical record straight.


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