As relatives of Emmett Till toured the new Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center in this tiny Mississippi Delta town earlier this week, they expressed hope that the startling exhibits will make a difference in race relations.
Among the items on display are a series of photographs of a mother’s grief, family snapshots from a happier time and the photo of Till’s mutilated body. The last picture rocked the nation in 1955, after the 14-year-old Chicago boy was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a White woman.
“I want the country to see this moment as an historic event of how far we have come in the civil rights movement, and to open people’s eyes to the many other injustices that have happened in other places besides the Delta,” said Till’s cousin, Priscilla Sterling.
The museum is in a converted cotton gin and includes oral histories, an audio-visual archive and a cotton gin fan like the one used to weigh down Till’s body after it was dumped in the Tallahatchie River.
Till was accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a White shopkeeper. Four days later he was snatched from his uncle’s home during the night.
When his body was recovered, his nose had been smashed, one eye was missing, the other dangled from its socket and most of his teeth were gone. Till’s identity was established by a ring he was wearing.
Till’s mother held an open-casket funeral in Chicago. A picture of his battered body appeared in Jet magazine, shocking the nation with the harshness of segregation and energizing the civil rights movement.
Ron Bryant, the shopkeeper’s husband, and his half brother, J.W. Milam, were acquitted of the crime by an all-White jury. The two men later confessed to the crime in an interview with Look magazine.
The National Conference of Black Mayors commissioned the Till Center as a model of economic revitalization for other struggling towns.
In addition to honoring Till’s memory, the museum has a space dedicated to Glendora native and legendary blues harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson. And there will be a technological center at the site in collaboration with Mississippi Valley State University.
— Associated Press
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