Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Miss. provides $152K to restore 1950s service station connected to Emmett Till’s killing; Gallup civil rights author responds

Information from: The Greenwood Commonwealth, http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

MONEY, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Archives and History is providing $152,000 to restore a gas station as part of the story of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old from Chicago who was lynched for whistling at a white woman in August of 1955.

Ben Roy’s Service Station stands next to what used to be Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, owned by Carolyn Bryant — the woman Till is said to have whistled at — and her husband, Roy.

Several nights afterward, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, killed and mutilated Till. An all-white jury acquitted them of murder, but they later confessed to the crime in an article in Look Magazine.

The station will be restored as part of the Mississippi Civil Rights Historical Program, The Greenwood Commonwealth (http://bit.ly/qlcYAb) reported Sunday.


Gallup, New Mexico civil rights author, Susan Klopfer, believes the state of Mississippi is making “a good effort” to recognize its role in this civil rights event, and to help others know the story, as the 56th anniversary of Emmett Till murder moves closer.

“I am always surprised when a teacher, anthropologist, history professor, a John Grisham fan (this one always stops me) or some other person who should know this story gives me a blank stare when I mention my eBook on Till.

“And yes -- this important story was not being taught in high school history classes way back in 1966 when I was a student in Lakeview, Oregon. Most white people and white historians, especially in the North, had not heard the story and certainly were not teaching it. No one in my college U.S. history class touched upon the Emmett Till story, either,” Klopfer said.

"And from what I've observed, this story is still not being taught in most history classes, unless the teacher is particularly enlightened."

The Gallup resident is the author of two books on Till, The Emmettt Till Book, and Who Killed Emmett Till?, The latter book, published both in eBook and print format, was recently nominated for a Global eBook award through publisher Dan Poynter of Santa Barbara, Calif.

“The story goes that in late August of 1955, Mamie Till Bradley put her only son on a train bound from Chicago to Mississippi so he could visit relatives. Having instructed him to mind his manners and corral his quick tongue, Mrs. Bradley made sure the boy kissed her good-bye before watching him scramble to make his train.

“He was a fearless boy, Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old inner city kid who sparkled with an impish sense of humor. Such boldness, his mother feared, could get a young black boy into trouble in the heart of the Deep South. It ended up putting him into an early grave,” Klopfer said.

“While looking for something to do on a hot and humid Mississippi Delta day, Emmett and his cousins ambled into the tiny town of Money, Mississippi, which boasted little more than a general store run by Roy Bryant and his wife, Carolyn, a young white woman.

“Carolyn actually lives today in Mississippi, and could shed more light on what really happened next, but she continues to refuse to talk. Even to the FBI.”

What exactly happened in the store is still unclear; there have been accounts that Emmett made a pass at Carolyn Bryant, whistling at her and calling her "baby" before his terrified companions pulled him out of the store and fled the inevitable consequences of disrespecting a white woman, Klopfer says.

“And there are still other stores that continue to float around the Delta. One story goes that Emmett was mentally challenged. Bryant tried to help him, and because he was African American, her racist husband heard about this and went ballistic.”

Three days later, Emmett was dragged from his bed at his uncle's house by Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam. His body was later found floating in the Tallahatchie River, tied to a seventy-five pound fan and brutalized beyond recognition.

According to the Gallup civil rights author, Mississippi authorities wanted Mrs. Bradley to keep the world from seeing "images of the grotesque waxen features that dripped from her son's bones, to allow no sunlight to pass through the hole in his skull, or reveal the eyeball that lolled upon his cheek."

But Emmett Till's mother showed great courage, especially for those horribly racist times in this country. “She pried the lid open from her son's coffin to show the world exactly what hatred looked like.”

One person deeply affected by photos of Till appearing in the national and international press, was Rosa Parks who was living in Montgomery, Ala.

“Parks had been planning her act of civil disobedience, to sit at the front of a city bus on her way home from work. After she learned the two men were found innocent of killing Till (and they later confessed to this murder), Parks decided to take a stand.

“Thus, Till’s murder is seen by today's historians as an important spark that ignited the modern civil rights movement.”

Klopfer said she has spent further time researching the life of a civil rights lawyer, Cleveland McDowell, “who was the same age as Till and lived in the small town of Drew, Miss., near the site of Till’s murder.”

McDowell, who Klopfer said she is currently writing a third book about, “was murdered in 1997 – after spending most of his life investigating civil rights murders and brutalities, including the murder of Emmett Till.

“There are many questions remaining about his murder that I will try to answer.”

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