Sweet Land of Liberty
Fourteen-year old Emmett Till is found floating in the Tallahatchie River, a seventy-four pound cotton gin lashed around his neck, the bullet that killed him lodged in his head. His bloated body has been half-eaten by fish. His bashed-in skull has only one eye.
Visiting Mississippi from Chicago, Till is said to have committed a grave crime: whistling at a white woman, calling her "baby," and asking for a date.
The undertaker reports that he cannot restore his face to human resemblance. Till's mother, Mrs. Mamie Bradley, insists on an open coffin for the funeral so that "people can see what they have to fight."
At the funeral service a woman faints looking at Till's remains. Mrs. Bradley cries out to her sobbing black neighbors: "See for yourselves what they might do to your son and make up your minds to put an end to it."
In an area two-thirds black, an all-white jury is selected and the case is rushed to trial in Sumner. The white defendants are amused at the inexplicable fuss raised over the death of a black child, smirking and laughing at the proceedings while their lawyer insists they are being framed by the NAACP. The press concurs, intimating that the guilty are not Till's murderers, but those who seek to hold them accountable for the crime.
Acquitted, the killers cash in, selling their story to Look magazine. Defendant J. W. Millam, proudly confessing that he repeatedly pistol-whipped Till before shooting him through the ear, promises more of the same: "As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place."
Vollers, Maryanne, "Ghosts of Mississippi," (Little, Brown, 1995) p. 65-7
James Campbell, "Talking At The Gates - A Life of James Baldwin," (Viking, 1991) p. 122
Berrigan, Philip, with Fred A. Wilcox, "Fighting The Lamb's War: Skirmishes With The American Empire," (Common Courage, 1996) p. 47
I. F. Stone, "The Haunted Fifties," (Vintage, 1963), pps. 107-9
Belfrage, Cedric, "The American Inquisition," (Bobbs-Merrill, 1973) p. 241