2007 Regular Session
To: Judiciary, Division A
By: Senator(s) Jordan, Jackson (11th), Harden, Walls, Butler, Frazier, Simmons, Horhn, Thomas, Jackson (32nd), Williamson, Dawkins
AN ACT ISSUING AN OFFICIAL APOLOGY FROM THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI FOR THE MURDER OF EMMETT TILL AND CALLING FOR RECONCILIATION; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
WHEREAS, Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till (July 25, 1941-August 28, 1955) was an African-American teenager from Chicago, Illinois, who was brutally murdered in the region of Mississippi known as the Mississippi Delta in the small Town of Money in Leflore County; and
WHEREAS, his murder was one of the key events that energized the nascent American Civil Rights Movement. The main suspects for the crime, both white men, were acquitted, but later admitted to committing the crime. Till's mother had an open casket funeral to let everyone see how her son had been brutally killed; and
WHEREAS, Emmett Till was the son of Mamie Carthan Till (Bradley, Mobley) and Louis Till. His mother was born to John and Alma Carthan in the small Delta Town of Webb, Mississippi. When she was two years old, her family moved to Illinois. Emmett's mother largely raised him on her own; she and Louis had separated in 1942. In 1955, Emmett was sent for a summer stay with his great uncle, Mose Wright, who lived in Money, Mississippi, a small town eight miles north of Greenwood; and
WHEREAS, Till arrived on August 21, 1955; on August 24th he joined other teenagers as they went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to get some candy. The teens were children of sharecroppers and had been picking cotton all day. The market was owned by Roy Bryant and Carolyn Bryant, and mostly catered to the local sharecropper population. While in the store, Till allegedly whistled at, or openly flirted with, Carolyn Bryant and this action greatly angered her husband when he returned home several days later from an out-of-town trip; and
WHEREAS, at about 2:30 a.m. on August 28th, Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Till from his uncle's house in the small cotton Town of Money, Mississippi. According to witnesses, they drove him to a weathered plantation shed in neighboring Sunflower County, where they brutally beat him until he was unrecognizable, cut off an ear, gouged out an eye, then shot him with a .45 caliber pistol before tying a 75-pound cotton gin fan around Till's neck with barbed wire. This was to weight down his body, which was dropped into the Tallahatchie River near Glendora, another small cotton town; and
WHEREAS, the brothers were soon under official suspicion for the boy's disappearance and were arrested August 29th after spending the night with relatives living in Ruleville, just miles away from where the murder took place. Both men admitted they had taken the boy from his great-uncle's home but claimed they turned him loose the same night; and
WHEREAS, after they found his body, a Tutwiler mortuary assistant worked all night to prepare the body as best he could, so Mamie Till Bradley could bring Emmett's body back to Chicago. The Chicago funeral home had agreed not to open the casket, but Mamie Bradley insisted she had a right to see her son. Mr. Raynor complied. After viewing the body, she also opted to leave the casket open for the funeral because she wanted people to see how badly Till's body had been disfigured. News photographs of Till's mutilated corpse circulated around the county, drawing intense public reaction. Some reports indicate up to 50,000 people viewed the body; and
WHEREAS, Emmett Till was buried September 6, 1955, in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. The same day, Bryant and Milam were indicted in Mississippi by a grand jury; and
WHEREAS, on September 23, 1955, the jury, made up of 12 white males, acquitted both defendants. Deliberations took just 67 minutes; one juror said they took a "soda break" to stretch the time to over an hour. The hasty acquittal outraged people throughout the United States and Europe, and energized the nascent Civil Rights Movement; and
WHEREAS, the murder of Emmett Till was felt deeply by African-Americans, civil rights activists and many others. On May 10, 2004, the United States Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the case to determine whether anyone other than Milam and Bryant were involved. Although the statute of limitations prevented charges being pursued under federal law, they could be pursued before the state court, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officials in Mississippi worked jointly on the investigation. As no autopsy had been performed on Till's body, it was exhumed from the suburban Chicago cemetery where it was buried on May 31, 2005, and the Cook County coroner then conducted the autopsy. The body was reburied by relatives on June 4. On August 26, 2005, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, announced that the exhumed body had been positively identified as that of Emmett Till; and
WHEREAS, in 2005, a 38-mile stretch of U.S. Highway North from Tutwiler to Greenwood, Mississippi, was renamed by the Mississippi Legislature in honor of Emmett Till, acknowledging the desire of the Mississippi Legislature to atone for this crime; and
WHEREAS, the murder of Emmett Till is one of the greatest crimes of history and its legacy still vexes the United States and the State of Mississippi. Small men took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters, and years of unpunished brutality have produced a hardness of conscience. The perpetual pain, distrust and bitterness of many African-Americans could be assuaged and the principles espoused by the Founding Fathers would be affirmed, unifying all Mississippians, if on the 51st anniversary of this infamous crime, the State of Mississippi acknowledges and atones for its pivotal role in the civil rights movement; NOW, THEREFORE,
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. (1) That the State of Mississippi hereby apologizes for the murder of Emmett L. Till, which occurred on August 28, 1955, in Money, Mississippi, and calls for reconciliation in this matter.
(2) That the Secretary of State shall transmit a copy of this act to the surviving family of Emmett Till and to the State Superintendent of Education, the Director of the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, the Commissioner of Higher Education and to members of Mississippi's congressional delegation for dissemination to their students and respective constituents so that they may be apprised of the sense of the Legislature in this matter.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2007.