2021 Regular Session
By: Representative Hines
A RESOLUTION APOLOGIZING FOR THE ROLE MISSISSIPPI PLAYED IN THE MURDER OF EMMETT TILL AND THE ACQUITTAL OF HIS KILLERS, ROY BRYANT AND J.W. MILAM, WHICH WAS BASED UPON AN UNSUBSTANTIATED LIE TOLD BY CAROLYN BRYANT.
WHEREAS, in January 2017, author Timothy Tyson released an interview he had with Carolyn Bryant regarding the role she played in the horrific murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, and how the story she told her husband, Roy Bryant, that led to Emmett's death was fabricated, false, made up, a lie; and
WHEREAS, Carolyn Bryant, now 72 years old, admitted to Tyson that the most sensational part of her testimony, that Emmett Till had physically assaulted her, or made sexual advances toward her at all, was not true, but while Carolyn Bryant may have a clearer conscience now, the fact that Mississippi and its leaders brought no one to justice in the most notorious racially motivated lynching of the 20th century serves as a constant reminder that allegations implicating African Americans of misconduct were in essence a death penalty upon the implicated at the hand of the accuser, who became the judge, jury and executioner, even when the allegations were premised on unsubstantiated lies; and
WHEREAS, on August 28, 1955, Emmett Till, a young African-American teenager from Argo, Illinois, who was visiting his great uncle in Money, Mississippi, found himself the central target of implication which ultimately resulted in being kidnapped, bludgeoned, and brutally murdered by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for allegedly whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, an act whites considered a crime at that time in Mississippi, a crime that carried the punishment of death for the adolescent and unsuspecting Emmett Till; and
WHEREAS, after Till's beaten, broken, disfigured and drenched body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River, it was returned to Chicago, where his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted on an open casket so that the world could witness the horrendous nature of her son's killing; however, the world was not only exposed to Emmett Till's bloated and mutilated body, but also to the immense problems with American racism and the barbarism of lynching, which sparked public outcry and ultimately became the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement; and
WHEREAS, since 1882, when statistics on lynching began to be collected, more than 500 African Americans have been killed by extrajudicial violence, a lawless penal code of vigilante justice, in Mississippi alone, and more than 3,000 across the South, where white people publicly prohibited interracial relationships as a means to maintain their white supremacy, as even the suggestion of sexual contact between black men and white women could carry severe penalties; and
WHEREAS, the case of a 14-year-old boy who had been killed for breaching a social caste system aroused negative feelings throughout the nation about segregation, law enforcement, relations between the North and South, the social status quo in Mississippi, and the activities of the White Citizens' Councils, yet Mississippians failed to feel the same outrage and understand the severity of what had happened within its own borders; and
WHEREAS, during the initial stages of the Till case and prior to the indictment of Bryant and Milam, certain Mississippi officials and residents denounced the killing as "deplorable" and promised to prosecute the murderers to the fullest extent of the law, but when groups such as the White Citizens' Council got involved and repeatedly called for the support of racial segregation policies as a means to prevent this type of attack, the angry tone changed and local newspapers began falsely reporting about riots at the Chicago funeral home, printed pictures of Bryant and Milam in military uniforms and smiling, and lauded Carolyn Bryant's beauty and virtue; and
WHEREAS, Mississippians and the officials that governed them at the time transitioned from compassionate individuals enraged at the atrocious murder that occurred on their beloved Delta soil to resolute defenders of the two men who ended the innocent life of Emmett Till, as even the Tallahatchie County Sheriff Clarence Strider, who initially positively identified Till's body as the one pulled from the river, walked back this fact and began disseminating conspiracy theories that Till was still alive and the recovered body had been planted by the NAACP, undoubtedly one of the theories concocted by the racist White Citizens' Council; and
WHEREAS, the trial for the murder of Emmett Till began in September 1955, and lasted for five, blistering hot days inside the 280-spectator capacity county courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, that was completely packed with people like a can of sardines and seated attendees as well as members of the press in "separate but equal" areas as they patiently waited for the guilty verdict while jury members drank beer and white men in the audience sat with handguns holstered to their belts; and
WHEREAS, the murder trial proceeded as one might expect, and on September 23, 1955, the all-white, all-male jury, as both African Americans and women were banned, acquitted both defendants after only 67 minutes of deliberation, a time frame that might seem short for such a serious offense but would have admittedly been shorter according to one juror if they "hadn't stopped to drink pop"; and
WHEREAS, in later interviews, jurors acknowledged that they believed Bryant and Milam were guilty, but simply did not believe that life imprisonment or the death penalty were fit punishment for white people who had killed a black man; and
WHEREAS, furthermore, protected from retrial by double jeopardy, Bryant and Milam decided to profit from the murder they committed and struck a deal with Look magazine in 1956 to tell their story to journalist William Bradford Huie for approximately $4,000, where they admitted to committing the murder, albeit bragged about its completion, and conceded that neither of them believed they were guilty or had done anything wrong, despite the blow of their fists and the pull of the trigger that robbed a young man of his precious life; and
WHEREAS, in light of the recent confession by Carolyn Bryant that her story, which led to the death of 14-year-old Emmett Till, was fabricated and nothing but falsehoods, the time has come for Mississippi to apologize for its part in creating a toxic environment breaming with racism and segregationist ideals that ultimately led to the murder of Emmett Till, the murder's defense by Mississippi's citizens and leaders who were assuredly fueled by propaganda produced by the White Citizens' Council, and the acquittal of the murderers that was based on a total and complete lie, a lie which exacerbated the hypocrisy evidenced by supposedly adamant Christians towards the Biblical principal recorded in Matthew 25:40, which reads in part, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have also done it unto me"; and
WHEREAS, while an apology from the state will not erase the lie told or the crime committed, nor will it resurrect the mutilated and lifeless body of a child unfamiliar with the pomp and circumstance of the deep south's social order, it will help to quell the racist undertones and actions many African Americans still experience today, as recently as October 2016, when the sign that marks the site where Emmett Till's body was exhumed from the Tallahatchie River was riddled with more than 40 bullet holes and continues to be defaced each time it is replaced, marking the tremendous progress that is left to be made in Mississippi so that all are treated as equals; and
WHEREAS, the distrust and bitterness that many African Americans have toward the Mississippi government for its role in segregation after Brown v. Board of Education, its role in the murder of numerous Civil Rights leaders, and particularly, its role in the acquittal of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the brutal murder of Emmett Till, could be assuaged, and the principles espoused by the founding fathers would be affirmed, and great strides toward unifying all Mississippians and inspiring the nation accomplished if the state acknowledged its role in the murder of Emmett Till and the acquittal of his killers:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, That we express our profound regret for the State of Mississippi's role in providing a hospitable environment for the toxic beliefs and ideologies that led to the horrific and unnecessary murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and that we apologize for the part the state played in the acquittal of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the men who pummeled, tortured and murdered Emmett Till, an acquittal that was based on an unsubstantiated lie, and express deepest sympathy and solemn regrets to the family of Emmett Till, for depriving him of his life, human dignity and those constitutional protections accorded to all citizens of the United States, regardless of race, and we encourage the remembrance and teachings about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, both the stories of change and progress and the gory details of the trials, tribulations and murders, particularly that of Emmett Till, to ensure that the tragedies will neither be forgotten nor repeated.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That it is the intent of the House of Representatives that this resolution shall not be used in, or be the basis of, any type of litigation.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That copies of this resolution be furnished to each state elected official of Mississippi; the Commissioner of Institutions of Higher Learning; the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mississippi Chapter; the Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Mississippi Chapter; requesting that they further disseminate copies of this resolution to their respective constituents so as to apprise them of the sense of the Mississippi House of Representatives in this matter; and to the members of the Capitol Press Corps.