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‘The Blood of Emmett Till’

For The Madera Tribune

Mamie Till-Bradley looks on with anguish at the mutilated body of her son, Emmett Till after his funeral in 1955.


School project anticipates national interest in the murder

When ABC recently announced it would run a TV series about the Emmett Till murder, two groups of Madera Unified students felt the media giant had landed in their academic backyard.

The documentary premiered on Jan. 6 and was followed by two more episodes. The students had no knowledge of ABC’s plan for the series when they began their project, but they feel it underscores the significance of their own work on the Emmett Till story, which began in August 2021. That’s when the two classes of MUSD eighth graders commenced their Madera Method project, which focused on the evolution of “Jim Crow” in Madera and in the nation.

After examining several local examples of Jim Crow, the students broadened the scope of their effort to include the history of Jim Crow throughout the country. This brought them face to face with violent expressions of Jim Crow, the inescapable result of racism.

The students considered several lynchings and then they discovered the Emmett Till murder. They were stunned by this heinous crime and shocked by the fact that the two grown, white men who tortured and murdered 14-year-old Emmett were tried and found “Not Guilty.”

So appalled were the students that they decided to correct this historical injustice by putting Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the killers (now deceased), on trial in the old Madera County Courthouse. They determined that students would prosecute the case and 12 members of the Black Students Union would serve as jurors.

Digging deeper

The student research began with newspaper articles and old Youtube interviews with some of Till’s relatives. Recently, these sources were buttressed with the discovery of a rare document, which shed considerable light on the Emmett Till case. It was the transcript of the following trial: STATE OF MISSISSIPPI VS. J. W. MILAM and ROY BRYANT. This account of the court proceedings included testimony from every person who had been even remotely connected with the case, except for the two defendants.

Finding the body

Currently the young sleuths are focused on that portion of the trial transcript that describes the retrieval of Emmett Till’s body from the Tallahatchie River on August 31, 1955.

According to the transcript, on that Wednesday morning, one B.L. Mims, who owned land along the river, was apprised that some youths had come across a body while fishing from the banks of the river near Mims’ house.

Mims, in turn, alerted a couple of friends and with two boats went after the body. The court document records the following testimony from Mims:

“We saw a person from his knees down, including his feet. We saw them sticking up above the water, and we could tell by looking that it was a colored person.”

Mims went on to say the body was hung up on some branches in the river. One of the men took a boat and went back for a rope.

With that they tied it to the ankles that were sticking up out of the water and pulled it into the boat. Attached to the neck with barbed wire was a heavy cotton gin fan.

Then they took the corpse to shore. The mangled body was identified as that of Emmett Till.

The student prosecutors will illustrate their arguments with enlarged photographs of those who were involved in the case including Bryant, Milam, the all-white, all-male jury, and the segregationist sheriff who testified for the defense.

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