January 24, 2014
Somber Anniversary: Killers confess to Emmett Till murder

Anniversaries are a time to remember significant events from the past.  They can invoke many different emotions (from happiness to grief), depending on the event that is remembered. The anniversary that is recognized on January 24th is one that invokes anger, fear and outrage. It also invokes a call to action.

On January 24, 1956, J.W. Milam and Ray Bryant confessed to kidnapping and killing 14-year old Emmett Till for whistling at a white woman. Their confession was published in Look Magazine.

Their crime was notorious. In the early hours of August 28, 1955, they arrived at the home of Emmett’s uncle, Mose Wright, in Money, Mississippi, looking for the Chicago youth.  After driving for some time, they took him to a shed where they pistol-whipped, tortured, and killed Emmett. They then tied his body to a cotton gin and dumped it in the Tallahatchie River where it was found three days later.  After his uncle courageously identified the two men as Emmett’s kidnappers, they were arrested and charged with his murder. Milam and Bryant denied their involvement in the killing. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before acquitting the men.  That’s the short, tragic story.

The story continues with their confession to the horrific crime published in Look Magazine.  Of course, most, if not all, people “knew” that Milam and Bryant had killed young Emmett.

Want to read the Look magazine article?  Click on the link below. Be sure to return to this page!

 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/sfeature/sf_look_confession.html

 Why do we remember the day on which Milam and Bryant confessed to killing Emmett Till?

 Because the killings of black youth have not stopped.

  • Young, African American men continue to be threatened or killed without punishment. We must remember that this problem still exists.
  • We remember the killing of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, shot on his way home from the market, and the swift acquittal of George Zimmerman for his murder.

  •  We remember the killing of Oscar Grant by a BART policeman while Oscar was pinned face down on the ground.  The film, Fruitvale Station, has kept the memory of this young father alive.

  •  We remember Derrick Jones, who was shot and killed by a policeman who admitted that he “wanted to get lethal.”

  •  We remember Gary King, who was shot in the back by police as he fled.

  •  We remember high school senior, Alan Blueford, who was shot multiple times by police claiming that he had “a hidden gun.”

Many of us even remember the case of Rodney King, who was chased and beaten by police officers. They were initially acquitted before being convicted on civil rights charges. Similarly, many of us Bernhard Goetz, who shot four unarmed, black youths on a New York subway. He was convicted of carrying an unlicensed firearm.

The confessions of Milam and Bryant (and the others) who have shot and/or killed African American youth were met with mixed feelings rather than the outrage that should be felt from the death or injury of any young person. In fact, some of the “killers” were praised or congratulated for their actions.

 I acknowledge that times have changed since 1955.

Today, there is widespread disapproval and, yes, outrage for many of these crimes. And let’s remember President Obama’s heartfelt and profound post-Zimmerman verdict speech. He expressed the feelings and frustration that the African American community experiences with every killing of one of its youngsters.

 We don’t want confessions. We want justice. And, of course, we want the killings to stop.

So, on this day, let’s not remember Milam and Bryant who received $4,000 for their confession of killing a young, innocent child. Let’s remember Emmett Till, the good-natured, happy-go-lucky young man, who faced the lynch mob with courage and bravery.

 

 

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