Two Saturdays ago, on my way to a meeting,
I stopped by a store to buy children’s books. I was on the lookout for African stories
but the closest I could get was Wilma Rudolph (unlimited) and A wreath for
Emmett Till (a sonnet). I also had some five others which were purely English
children stories. On the Sunday, I got to read some of the
books myself to see the suitability of the content for my kids. The story of
Emmett Till was particularly a compelling story of colour-hatred (racism). Emmett
Till was a friendly, extroverted African-American boy who grew up during a time
when racism and segregation were legal parts of the culture of the US.
In the summer of 1955, 14 yr-old Emmett visited relatives in the South. On August 24, in the town of Money, Mississippi, Emmett went into a country store, where, by some accounts, he whistled at a white woman. On August 28, the woman’s husband and brother-in-law took Emmett from his uncle’s house. Emmett’s body was found three days later. The murderers had tied a heavy metal cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire and thrown him into the Tallahatchie River. He had been shot in the head. His face and body had been beaten and were bloated from the river water.
An all-white male jury heard the trial of the alleged murderers in a segregated courthouse in Mississippi. Inspite of the terrors of the times and the danger he could have been placing himself in, Emmett’s uncle identified the white men who had pulled Emmett out of his house. After deliberating for just over an hour, the jurors came back with a verdict of “not guilty”. The trial and verdict drew the world’s attention.