Op-ed by Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq. (Ret.)
August 28, 1955, was many lifetimes ago, but, in the evolution of this country, it seems like the blink-of-an-eye. Irrefutably, the racism that is pervasive now was even more pervasive, brutal, and accepted as a socio/cultural norm by oppressor and victim alike then. August 28, 1955 was the day that 14 year-old Emmett Till, an African American youth from Chicago visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, was murdered.
His murder was most heinous. He was abducted at gunpoint from his uncle’s home, beaten beyond recognition. He was then shot to death and unceremoniously pitched into the Tallahatchie River with a large fan tied to his body to keep him submerged. His assailants were Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant’s husband, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam. Emmett’s offense – he allegedly whistled at a white woman!
Later Bryant and Milam were acquitted by an all-white jury which, unbelievably, deliberated for only 65 minutes! After acquittal, they bragged about committing the murder. Even later, it was discovered that Carolyn Bryant lied about the circumstances that sent her husband and brother-in-law into a murderous rampage.
We now know that an unserved warrant for kidnapping was issued in 1955 for Carolyn Bryant. Her maternal responsibilities for her children were deemed more significant than her complicity in murder. The deaths of her husband and brother-in-law, left her only living participant in that conspiratorial triad.
As more incriminating facts became known, Carolyn Bryant moved around the country. There is no complete record of her residences after leaving Mississippi, but it is known that she fled to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to live with her son. From December 3-5, 2022, I visited Bowling Green for a rally to put focus for the murder of Emmett Till back on Carolyn Bryant, and on the radar of the United States Justice Department and the national conscience, where it rightly belongs.
A group of us, including Nia 2X, Attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz, and John C. Barnett went to Kentucky to hold a rally at the address where Carolyn Bryant purportedly now lives. The morning of our rally, we awoke to a credible threat against rally participants. We gave thought to personal security, but, considering the gravity of our efforts, soldiered on.
It seemed like every local police officer was assigned to secure Carolyn Bryant’s home and to protect the guilty party! There were more police than there were of us!
Arriving at the site, I thought about Ida B. Wells in the 1890’s enduring the dangers of working for ending the lynching of Black people. Over 130 years later and 67 years since 1955, we must still seek justice for Emmett’s murder.
In 2009, Dick Gregory, Janet Langhart Cohen, Mark Planning, and I worked diligently for a simple apology from the United States Senate for never having apologized for this dastardly crime. After much effort, we were successful. Notwithstanding, it was another 13 years before the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching law criminalized lynching!
Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, demonstrated her immense courage by allowing the world to see the horrors of racism by allowing the full display of her son’s body. Her faith in securing justice never wavered, but she died without realizing justice for the kidnapping and murder of her only child.
Since August 28, 1955, while Emmett lay cold and dead, and Mamie suffered from loss that only a mother could know, Carolyn Bryant has lived an unmolested existence provided by a racist justice system and a social structure willing to ignore the horrors perpetrated against African Americans.
The President and Congress must advocate for the justice denied to Mamie Till-Mobley. The Department of Justice must serve the warrant on Carolyn Bryant to begin the overdue process of attaining justice.
~ Dr. E. Faye Williams is President of The Dick Gregory Society (thedickgregorysociety.org; firstname.lastname@example.org) and President Emeritus of the National Congress of Black Women.