Sixty one years ago today, whites in Money, Miss., murdered a 14-year-old boy in Money, Miss., for whistling at a white woman. He was from Chicago, visiting family for the summer. His name was Emmitt Till:
They put Till in the back of a pickup truck and drove to a barn at the Clint Shurden Plantation in Drew. Till was pistol-whipped and placed in the bed of the pickup truck again and covered with a tarpaulin. Throughout the course of the night, Bryant, Milam, and witnesses recall their being in several locations with Till. According to some witnesses, they took Till to a shed behind Milam’s home in the nearby town of Glendora, where they beat him again and tried to decide what to do. Witnesses recall between two and four white men and two and four black men who were either in or surrounding the pickup truck where Till was seated. Others passed by Milam’s shed and heard someone being beaten. Accounts differ as to when Till was shot; either in Milam’s shed or by the Tallahatchie River. The group drove with him in the truck to Bryant’s store, where several people noticed blood pooling in the truck bed. Bryant explained he killed a deer, and in one instance showed the body to a black man who questioned him, saying “that’s what happens to smart niggers”.
In an interview with William Bradford Huie, published in Look magazine in 1956, Bryant and Milam said they intended to beat Till and throw him off an embankment into the river to frighten him. They told Huie that while they were beating Till, he called them bastards, declared he was as good as they, and had had sexual encounters with white women. They put Till in the back of their truck, drove to a cotton gin to take a 70-pound (32 kg) fan—the only time they admitted to being worried, thinking that by this time in early daylight they would be spotted and accused of stealing—and drove for several miles along the river looking for a place to dispose of Till. They shot him by the river and weighted his body with the fan.
His mutilated body was recovered and taken to his mother in Chicago. Where she held an open casket funeral so the world could see what the white Mississippians did to her boy. Thousands viewed the body. It was one of the major events of the civil rights era.
There was a trial, but this is Mississippi in the 1950s. The murderers were found not guilty.
They were murderers though. Several months after the trial, they were interviewed by Look Magazine. Here’s what one of them said:
Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.’
Today, this guy would be called a member of the alt-Right. He’d attend a rally for a megalomaniacal yam, chanting “Make America Great Again,” and throwing sucker punches at people standing quietly holding a copy of the U.S. Constitution in their hands.