Archive for the ‘RACISM’ Category


December 11, 2012

Barack Obama election


April 29, 2011


International Socialist Review, September-October 1967

Rev. Albert Cleage

Myths About Malcolm X:
A Speech

From International Socialist Review, Vol.28 No.5, September-October 1967, pp.33-42.
Mark up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Rev. Albert Cleage, chairman of the Detroit Inner City Organizing Committee, gave this speech at a memorial meeting for Malcolm X at the Friday Night Socialist Forum in Detroit, February 24, 1967.
You were very kind to ask me to be here.

I am not a Marxist – I don’t pretend to be, I don’t even pretend to know anything about it. I am a black man in a world dominated by white oppression, and that is my total philosophy. I would like to get rid of that oppression, and that is my total objective. So I bring to this occasion rather a simple approach – personal reflections on the significance of Malcolm X.
I can remember a number of occasions when I talked to him, when I was with him, when I spoke on platforms with him; and so I am not indebted to printed material for my impressions of Malcolm X. I remember the last time he was in the city – not so much the speech, which was not one of his best by any means; it reflected, I think, much of the tension that he was under, much of the confusion, the constant living on the brink of violence. But I can remember him backstage, in the Gold Room I think they call it, of Ford Auditorium. Recently he had suffered smoke inhalation, the doctor had given him an injection, he was trying to sleep, he was irritable. But he was here because he had promised to be here, because he thought some people were concerned about what he had to say.
I remember him at the King Solomon Baptist Church on one of the occasions he spoke there – sort of in concealment backstage, constantly harassed with the danger of assassination. And I can remember the occasion at the King Solomon Baptist Church when he gave the Message to the Grass Roots, which I think is his best speech, his most typical statement, and which I personally think is his last will and testament. I remember him, I talked to him, I agreed with him. He was a Muslim, I am a Christian, and yet I can think of no basic matter upon which we disagreed.
Two years after his death Brother Malcolm is more important to more people than he was at any time during his lifetime. I think this is true. Young people who never saw him, who never heard him, speak of him with reverence and say, “I love Malcolm.” This is a
tremendous thing. Older people who heard and saw him select from the things they heard and saw the things they want to remember, or even the things it suits their purpose to remember. This too is quite a thing – that an individual should be important enough to be remembered even with distortions or for reasons not quite only of love.
Brother Malcolm has become a symbol, a dream, a hope, a nostalgia for the past, a mystique, a shadow sometimes without substance, “our shining black prince,” to whom we do obeisance, about whom we write heroic poems. But I think Brother Malcolm the man is in danger of being lost in a vast tissue of distortions which now constitute the Malcolm myth. The Malcolm myth or the Malcolm myths, the complex of myths which more and more tend to cluster about Brother Malcolm, remind us of what happened to Jesus Christ. I think I understand much more now the things that are written and said about Jesus, because I can understand how the life of a man dedicated to people can so easily become a focal point for the things people want to make that life mean.
The Malcolm myth or myths depend for substance upon the last chaotic and confusing year or two of his life – fragmentary statements growing out of his trip to Mecca and his efforts to bring the problems of black people in America to the attention of African leaders. Out of this period of his life comes the confusing complex of myths. According to the myth, his pilgrimage to Mecca turned Brother Malcolm into an integrationist. I’ve heard that seriously stated by people who claim to be scholars and students of the life of Brother Malcolm. In Mecca, they say, he saw blue-eyed whites and blacks worshipping and living together, in love, for the first time in his 39 years – and his whole concept of white people changed. This is the myth. And he rejected his former position that the white man is the enemy and that separation is inescapable. This is the myth.
The implication here is that this new insight changed his orientation; that with this new insight he was now free to join the NAACP, or to sing We Shall Overcome with Martin Luther King, or to become a Marxist and join the Socialist Workers Party. And certainly, if we accept this basic myth as being true, as being fact, if his experience in Mecca changed his conception of white people, then all the implications certainly follow logically. If in terms of his experience in Mecca he came to believe that there is no enmity between black and white, that blacks and whites can march together in unity and brotherhood, then why shouldn’t he join the NAACP, or sing We Shall Overcome, or become a Marxist in the Socialist Workers Party?
I say that is the myth, and from my personal point of view, realizing that we are in the position of the blind man who inspected the elephant and tried to describe what an elephant is, I say I do not believe this myth. I reject it completely, totally and absolutely. I say if Malcolm X, Brother Malcolm, had undergone this kind of transformation, if in Mecca he had decided that blacks and whites can unite, then his life at that moment would have become meaningless in terms of the world struggle of black people, and we would not have any occasion to be here this evening. So I say I do not believe it.
Brother Malcolm knew history and he was guided by his interpretation of history. He interpreted the things that happened to him in terms of his knowledge and his understanding of the past. He would not have been taken in by what happened in Mecca. Brother Malcolm knew that the Arab Muslims had been the backbone of the slave trade. Those of you who have a sentimental attachment to the “Black Muslims” in America, or the Muslims that happen to be black, might not like to remember that the slave trade with black Africans in Africa was fostered, encouraged and carried on by the Arab Muslims in Africa. Brother Malcolm knew this. He would not have been taken in by the window dressing in Mecca. He would not have forgotten this important fact – that blacks and whites do not unite above the basic fact of race, of color. He would not have forgotten this in Mecca any more than in New York or Chicago or San Francisco. He knew that in Saudi Arabia they are still selling black Africans into slavery, they still make forays into Black Africa and bring back black slaves for sale in Arab Muslim countries. Brother Malcolm knew this. And to me it is preposterous to say that in Mecca he became an integrationist.
Also, according to the myth, Brother Malcolm tried to internationalize the black man’s struggle in America. Certainly he brought the black man’s struggle to the attention of African leaders. The implication is that Brother Malcolm felt that the black man in Africa could help us through the United Nations and that we would be better off before the white man’s World Court than before the white man’s Supreme Court. I do not believe it. Malcolm knew that one cracker court is just like another cracker court. He knew it, I know it and you know it. And to say now that he came to the conclusion that, if he could get the black man’s problem in America before the World Court, it would somehow mysteriously be changed and transformed is ridiculous. To take it before the World Court would have been interesting – but certainly no solution. We are no more apt to get justice before the World Court than before the Recorder’s Court downtown here in the city of Detroit. Crackers run both of them.
Don’t be afraid, brothers, don’t be afraid – I am not hurting the image of Malcolm. I am just’trying to save it, because you are about to lose it, you are about to forget what Malcolm said. By taking the last moments of confusion, when he was getting ready to be assassinated, and saying that the confused little statements he made in those last moments were his life – that’s a lie, that wasn’t his life. I heard him, I talked to him, I know what his life was, and he understood the relationship between blacks and whites.
Certainly Brother Malcolm wanted to relate our struggle, the struggle of black people in America, to the struggle of black people everywhere. I say to the struggle of black people everywhere, because
that is a struggle that he understood, that I understand and that you understand. I am not talking about relating it to the struggle of oppressed people everywhere, but relating it to the struggle of black people everywhere. But he expected little help from the Africans and the African nations. Malcolm wasn’t running around Africa thinking that the African nations were going to free us. Malcolm wasn’t that kind of an idiotic idealist. He went to our black brothers because they were our brothers. He talked to them about our problems because their problems are our problems, and we are as concerned about their problems as we want them to be about our problems. But he didn’t go to Africa expecting them to free us.
Sometimes we forget that, and we sit around waiting for somebody in Africa to send somebody over here to free us – “like Malcolm said they were going to.” He never said it and they are never going to do it. If you are going to be free, you are going to free yourself, and that is what Malcolm told us. The African nations can’t free us, they can’t save us. They couldn’t save Lumumba in Africa, they couldn’t wreak vengeance upon those who perpetrated his death in Africa. They couldn’t save the Congo; they couldn’t save the black people of Rhodesia; they couldn’t free the black people of South Africa. Then why should we sit here in our own oppression, our own suffering, our own brutality, waiting for some mysterious transformation when black armies from Africa are coming over here and free us? They could use some black armies from over here to free them.
Malcolm never said it, and don’t be misled by the statement that Malcolm tried to internationalize the black man’s struggle. He tried to tell us quite simply that the white man has given you hell here in the United States and he is giving black men hell all over the world. It is one struggle – black men fighting for freedom everywhere, in every country, in the United States, in Africa, in Vietnam, everywhere. Black men fighting against white men for freedom. He tried to tell you that the white man is not going to free you. I don’t care what persuasion or philosophy he has, he is not going to free you, because if he frees you, he must take something away from himself to give it to you.
Funny how we can so easily forget what Malcolm said. I don’t believe it. Certainly he wanted to relate it to the black man’s struggle throughout the world. He knew we were struggling against the same enemy. He knew that we could expect no more justice from the World Court than from a Supreme Court. So much for the Malcolm myth.
Brother Malcolm’s contribution is tremendous. What Brother Malcolm contributed to the black man’s struggle in America and throughout the world cannot be equaled or surpassed by the life of any man. Oh, we can think of individuals like Marcus Garvey. When he looked at the world and said, “Where is the black man’s government?” it was tremendous. Because he understood that the black man was engaged in a struggle against an enemy, and that if he was engaged
in a struggle there were certain things that were necessary – he had to have power, he had to have a government, he had to have economies, he had to have certain things. Marcus Garvey understood it. But no man surpasses Malcolm in his understanding of the meaning of the struggle in which black people are engaged everywhere in the world. And there was no subterfuge or confusion or weak-kneed pussyfooting in Malcolm as long as he lived.
I want to tell you this: we get all confused because we don’t know who assassinated him. I don’t believe that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad assassinated him. You believe whatever you want to, I do not believe it. And because we get confused about who assassinated him, we say there was never any good in Elijah Muhammad or the “Black Muslims.” I don’t believe that either. I believe that the basic truths that Malcolm X taught came from the basic philosophy and teachings of Elijah Muhammad. I believe that the basic contribution which he made, the basic philosophy which he taught, stems directly from the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the “Black Muslims.” I do not accept all the teachings of Elijah Muhammad or the “Black Muslims,” but I understand what Malcolm X did to those teachings. He took the teachings of a cult, with all the mythology of the “Black Muslims,” and universalized them so that black people everywhere, no matter what their religion, could understand them and could accept them.
I can accept the teachings which he abstracted from the cult philosophy and mythology of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I do not believe in the story about Yacub and creating the white man as the devil in 6,000 years, but that has nothing to do with the essential truth. I do not believe that the white man is the devil. He does devilish things, but I don’t believe that he is a devil. Because to say that he is a devil is to say that he is more than human, and I don’t believe that. You know that in the Christian religion the devil was flung out of heaven; he was an angel, he was more than a man, and to believe that the white man is a devil is to attribute to him supernatural powers. That is a cult mystique. There is nothing about the white man that is supernatural. He is just exactly like we are – that’s why we can understand him so well. There is nothing mysterious about what he does. He wasn’t condemned to be a devil for 6,000 years – he just acts like a devil because it suits his purpose, and he mistreats us, he oppresses us, he’s brutal to us, because it’s in his interest – not because he is a devil.
It is closer to the truth to say that he is a beast, and that is what Malcolm said. You would like to forget that now, but every time I talked to him, he referred to the white man as a beast. And those of you who are white here will agree with him that most white people are beasts – you can’t deny it. On the basis of the way the white man has treated black men in America and throughout the world for 400 years, you cannot deny that he certainly had a truth there when he said that the white man is a beast. But not a devil. A beast is lower than a man, a devil is higher than a man. Certainly the white man is not a devil, but he is in many instances a beast.
Malcolm was different when he was in the “Black Muslims.” You have got to remember that too – he had a power base then. You know, as quiet as it is kept, it is one thing to operate out of something, to talk out of something, to have something behind you when you go into a town or a city – to go knowing that there are people there who are preparing things for you. It is another thing to step out by yourself and try to go around the country without a power base, without any protection, without any organization in front. And that was the difference when Malcolm X stepped out of the Muslim movement and became an individual. Then he faced the harassment, the danger, the confusion and everything in these last years that those who want to distort Malcolm X want to make so much out of. At the beginning, when he was with the Muslims, there was a power base from which he operated, a philosophical foundation upon which he could build. And he built well and he operated well in terms of a power base. He abstracted the general truths that we still remember. And these things we have got to preserve – we have got to preserve, brothers, I’m telling you, we have got to preserve.
We have a great tendency to turn our leaders over to somebody else. Who is the custodian of Malcolm’s tradition? Who is the custodian? (Voice from audience: “We are.”) But we aren’t acting like it. You know who the custodian is, don’t you? – there he sits, right there. If Mr. Breitman stopped writing, nobody would write anything. And he’s doing it in terms of what he believes is a proper interpretation. If we want to preserve our heroes, we have to become the custodians of that tradition. Who is the custodian of DuBois? Black people? No, we don’t have one thing that he wrote. The Communist Party has it, and they will let us read what they want us to read. I’m talking to you black brothers, I don’t care what the rest of these people think. We have got to become the custodians of our own heroes and save them and interpret them the way we want them interpreted. And if you don’t do it, then you have to accept what somebody else says they said. Who is the custodian of Paul Robeson? (Voice from audience: “The Communists.”) All right, we don’t have it. The great things he said, all of the things – where are they? The CIA has taken over perhaps all of the African Encyclopedia that DuBois was working on in Ghana. Nobody knows where it is. We don’t protect these things. We are careless and we get caught up in the myths that other people spin for us. In another five years our children won’t know what Malcolm X was really like. Because we won’t write it down, and everything that is written that they can put their hands on will be saying that Malcolm X said something he never said, that Malcolm X meant something he never meant.
I say Malcolm X was tremendously important, beyond even our comprehension today, because Malcolm changed the whole course of the black man’s freedom struggle – the whole course of that freedom struggle not only in America but throughout the world. Black people everywhere in Africa, in the United States, everywhere, black people are fighting today a different battle than they fought before Malcolm began to talk. A different battle because Malcolm laid down certain basic principles that we can never forget. He changed the whole course. The first basic principle that Malcolm laid down that we can’t forget is this: The white man is your enemy. That is a basic principle, we can’t forget it. I don’t care what else they drag in from wherever they drag it – remember one thing, Malcolm X taught one truth: The white man is our enemy. We can’t get away from it, and if we accept and understand that one basic truth, his life was not lived in vain. Because upon that one basic truth we can build a total philosophy, a total course of action for struggle. Because that was the basic confusion which distorted the lives of black people, which corrupted the movements of black people. That was the basic area of our confusion, and Malcolm X straightened that out.
The white man is an enemy – he said it. We must break our identification with him, and that was his basic contribution. He didn’t just say it, he didn’t sit off someplace and just write it – he went out and he lived it. He asked for moments of confrontation. He said we have got to break our identification, we can’t go through life identifying with the white man or his government. You remember what he said down there at King Solomon Baptist Church: You talk about “your” navy and “your” astronauts. He said forget it, we don’t identify with these people, they are the enemy. And that is the basic truth. We must break our identification with the enemy, we must confront him, and we must realize that conflict and violence are necessary parts of a struggle against an enemy – that is what he taught. Conflict, struggle and violence are not to be avoided. Don’t be afraid of them – you heard what he said. There has got to be some bloodshed, he said, if black men want to be free – that is what he taught. Now you can’t take that and say that he believed in blacks and whites marching together. He said black men have got to be willing to shed their blood because they believe that they can be free. The white man is an enemy.
We must take pride in ourselves – you know that is what he said. But he didn’t make a mystique out of Africa. He didn’t sit down in a corner and contemplate his navel and think about the wonders of Africa. He said we have a history that we can be proud of. Africa is our history, African blood is our blood, African soil is our soil. We can take pride in our past – not by sitting down and contemplating it, but by using it as the basis for a course of action in today’s world, as a basis for confrontation with the enemy, as a basis for struggle, for conflict, and even for violence, if necessary. We fight because we are proud; and because we are proud, we are not going to lie down and crawl like snakes on our bellies. We are not going to take second-class citizenship sitting down, saying, “Well, in a few years maybe things will change.” We want to change it now. That is what Malcolm told us, that is what we believe, and that is the basis of our struggle today.
A corollary of that, which you must understand and which is essentially Malcolm’s contribution, is that integration is impossible and undesirable. Integration is impossible – he said it time and time and time again, under all kinds of circumstances – integration is impossible and undesirable. Now this was harder for black people to take than for white people. Because white people never wanted it in the first place, and were determined that it would never come to pass in the second place. But black people had been led to believe that it was a possibility, always just around the corner. So black people had pegged all of their organizational efforts toward integration. We sang We Shall Overcome Someday, believing that overcoming meant integrating. The NAACP pegged its whole program on the possibilities of integration. We are going to build an integrated world, we are going to build a world in which black people and white people live together, we are going to build an integrated world – that is what Dr. Martin Luther King said. “I’ve got a dream for America tonight, a dream when the children of slaves shall walk hand-in-hand with the children of slavemasters.” And we believed it until Malcolm X told us it is a lie. And that is a genuine contribution – it is a lie.
You will never walk hand-in-hand with anybody but black people, let me tell you. If you do, it is just a moment of mutual hypocrisy in which you are both engaged, for some purpose best known to yourselves. You may build a position of strength, a position of power from which you can negotiate with strength instead of weakness, and if you are willing to negotiate, then you can talk to the white man as an equal. That is as close to brotherhood as there is – there is no other brotherhood. If you talk to a man as an equal, he is your brother. But there is no other kind of equal. You cannot get down on your knees and talk up to a man and talk about brotherhood. Because you stopped being a brother when you got down on your knees. And if you are afraid to get up and look him in the eye and take a chance of getting killed if necessary, then there is no hope of brotherhood for you. Integration is impossible and undesirable – Malcolm taught it.
We have our own communities. The white man “gave” them to us. He forced us into them. He separated himself from us. And white people went all around the country all the time Malcolm was alive, saying, “He wants separation.” They had separated themselves from us in every area of life, and yet they said, “He is bad, he is wicked, he wants separation.” And if he had asked for integration seriously, they would have killed him more quickly.
He said we are going to control these separate communities. We have them, the white man “gave” them to us, and we are going to stop being ashamed of them. We are going to live in them and we are going to make them the best communities in the world. We are going to make the schools in them black schools and good schools. We are going to make our housing black housing and good housing. We are no longer going to believe that a block is no good till a white man comes and buys a house on it. We are no longer going to believe that if we can move into a community where half of the people on the street are white, that that is a better community. We are going to take our separate communities, we are going to work with them, we are going to control them, we are going to control their politics, we are going to control their economy – we are going to control our community.
Malcolm X laid the entire foundation for everything Stokely Carmichael says. Stokely hasn’t said one word that was not completely implicit in everything that Malcolm X taught. He is just a voice carrying on upon the basic foundation that Malcolm X put down. Integration is impossible and undesirable. We are going to control our own communities. We are going to stop worrying about being separate. We are not worried about busing black children into white neighborhoods. We are not worried about open occupancy, except that we want the right to live any place, and unless we are given that right, we will take it. And when we take it, we will still live together, because we do not want to live with you. That is a philosophy, that is Malcolm X’s philosophy. We have learned it, we still remember it, and there is nothing you can do today to take it away from us. But I’m telling you, brothers, we have got to write it down because they are about to mess it up so we won’t recognize it next year.
The whole civil rights movement has changed. The NAACP is washed up, through, finished. The Urban League is nothing but the social service agency it started out to be. The civil rights movement now is nothing but Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick – that’s it. Because they got the message. They are building today on what Malcolm said yesterday. The civil rights movement, the freedom struggle, the revolution – call it what you will – black men fighting for freedom today are fighting in terms laid down by Brother Malcolm. No other terms. You can’t go out into the community – the brother here said “let’s go out into the community” – you can’t go out into the community with anything other than what Malcolm X taught. Because they won’t listen to you, they won’t hear you.
The whole movement has changed. The last great picnic, as Floyd McKissick said, on the White House lawn, that “great freedom march” – that was the end, that was it. From here on in, black people are trying to build, to organize. Malcolm in his last days was trying to make the transition to organization, to structure; to fight not only in terms of words, of ideas, but to build the organizational structure. He didn’t do it. But he was making the transition because he realized that the next stage is an organizational stage – that if you want to be free, if you want power, you have got to organize to take it.
When you were just begging the white man to give you something, you didn’t need organization. All you needed was a kneeling pad so that you could kneel down and look humble. But if you want power, you have got to organize to get it – you have got to have political power, you have got to have economic power, you have got to organize. Malcolm realized that, and the feeble beginnings he made in the area of organization were pointing the way. Today we have got to carry on that organizational struggle that Malcolm pointed out.
I was in New York, I went to his headquarters while he was over in Africa, I talked with his lieutenants. They didn’t have the slightest idea of what was going on. They loved Malcolm, and they were sitting in the Hotel Theresa in a suite of rooms, but they didn’t have the slightest conception of how to organize. They were waiting for Brother Malcolm to come home so he could tell them what to do. I said, “My God, one man never carried such a load all by himself! He has men here who are supposed to be doing something and they are sitting there waiting for him to come back.” And they were carrying around his letters – he would write back a letter and they were carrying it around like it was the Bible: “Look, we’ve got a few words from Brother Malcolm.”
He did not want reverence – he wanted people who could do something, who could organize, who believed in action, who were willing to go out and sacrifice; and he didn’t have them. And all of us today – black people, brothers from coast to coast – when we get together and do reverence to Malcolm, let us remember that the last message was organize. We didn’t do it and that is why he died. We didn’t have organization enough to protect him. We didn’t have organization enough to give him funds to do what he had to do. We let him die. The message is the same today, and still we are not organizing, we are not doing the work that has to be done. If you love Brother Malcolm, write your poems at night and organize and work in the daytime for power. Because until you get power, Malcolm X is just a memory. When we get power, we will put his statue in every city, because the cities will belong to us. Then we can do him reverence.
But until we get power, let’s not play with images and myths. Let’s remember that he gave us certain principles, certain ideas, and we have got to do something with them. All of us have the task – to organize, to build, to fight, to get power. And as we get it, as we struggle for it, we will remember that we are struggling because we believe the things that he taught. That is the message of Malcolm, and don’t let anybody get you all mixed up. He never turned into an integrationist, never. He wasn’t fooled in Mecca, he wasn’t fooled in Africa. He told it like it was and he knew it like it was. That is our Malcolm. Some other folks may have another Malcolm – they are welcome to it. But brothers, don’t lose our Malcolm.

Myths About Malcolm X: Two ViewsThe Black Ghetto; Preface By Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., Introduction By James Shabazz


March 12, 2011


THIS IS THE PUNISHMENT RACISTS SHOWED BLACK PEOPLE DURING THEIR STRUGGLE TO EAT WHERE THEY WANTED TO, WORK AND VOTE ANYWHERE IN ALABAMA,IN THIS CASE!! THIS shows a white man with a baseball bat about to strike a middle-aged black woman. In the background, another white man rains down punches on another black woman’s head. Among the white spectators is a man armed with a steel rod, another holding a bottle, and yet another carrying a chain. Moore said later that he was haunted by the power of the photograph to show much more than the eye could see in the heat of the moment.


March 9, 2011


Million Man MarchMillion Man March
In 1996, the largest gather of black men in the nation’s history gathered on the mall in Washington D. C. for a Day of Atonement and reconciliation. The event offered black men who attended a kind of public ritual that would allow them to repent for failing to care adequately for their families and their communities and to dedicate themselves to doing better.


February 24, 2011


Unknown mob members set Jesse Washington on fire!

Waco Texas–1916

Unidentified lynching of an African American male.  Circa 1908, Oxford, Georgia.(

Bennie Simmons, alive, soaked in coal oil before being set on fire.  June 13, 1913. Anadarko, Oklahoma.

The corpses of five African American males, Nease Gillepsie, John Gillepsie, “Jack” Dillingham, Henry Lee, and George Irwin with onlookers.

August 6, 1906.  Salisbury, North Carolina.

Unidentified corpse of African American male. 1900-1915, Trenton, Georgia.

Silhouetted corpse of African American Allen Brooks hanging from Elk’s Arch, surrounded by spectators.  March 3, 1910.   Dallas, Texas. 

Spectators at the lynching of Jesse Washington. May 16, 1916. Waco, Texas.
The bludgeoned body of an African American male, propped in a rocking chair, blood splattered clothes, white and dark paint applied to the face and head, shadow of man using rod to prop up the victims head. Circa 1900, location unknown.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
The lynching of four unidentified African Americans.  Circa 1900, location unknown.
The lynching of Dick Robinson and a man named Thompson. October 6, 1906, Pritchard Station, Alabama.

Unidentified corpse of African American male.  Gallows, courthouse-jail, and windmill in background.  Nine onlookers, two young boys.  1900-1915
…for the trees to drop…

Here is a strange and bitter cry! black woman: head and shoulders in profile
Lyrics of the famed song: “Strange Fruit”.
(Recorded by the Late Billie Holiday)

As the dust of the Civil war settled, many Blacks saw an era of prosperity and hope. This dream was cut drastically as a concerted effort was begun by whites to destroy any advances which Blacks had made for themselves. This effort was extremely successful in removing Blacks from the many state and federal offices which Reconstruction had allowed them to hold. But this was not enough.
The architects of the revived South needed something more to further the cause of white supremacy and Black oppression. Out of this need, the era of Jim Crow was born with its “separate but equal” claims. And with it came a wave of violence against America’s newest citizens. The social atmosphere of white supremacy which Jim Crow had managed to create soon became a tide of hatred. Bolstered by the idea of the inferiority of Blacks and the protection of “white womanhood,” whites saw it as nothing to trample Blacks in a storm of violence.
These attacks included lynchings, burnings, and race riots. And though the majority of this violence took place in the South, the North was by no means immune. For more than a century, angry whites made the life of Black America a continuous nightmare.
Black man hung and burnt

Burnings and Lynchings

Lynching is the practice whereby a mob–usually several dozen or several hundred persons–takes the law into its own hands in order to injure and kill a person accused of some wrongdoing. The alleged offense can range from a serious crime like theft or murder to a mere violation of local customs and sensibilities. The issue of the victim’s guilt is usually secondary, since the mob serves as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Due process yields to momentary passions and expedient objectives.
Men ve över den ogudaktige! Honom skall det gå illa, han skall vedergällas efter sina gärningar. Jesaja 3:11 burning blacks
Burnings of Blacks were commonplace in America following Reconstruction. Primarily the victims were Black males who were often mutilated, shot and beaten… before being burned on pyres. This Black man was beaten, stoned, dragged through the street and then burned alive by onlookers.
His body parts were later sold: as souvenirs, which was often the custom.
Mob lynchings were a common form of death for young Black men. The idea that most of these men were charged with the rape of white women is a false one. Their alleged crimes were numerous: using offensive language; bad reputation; refusal to give up a farm; throwing stones; unpopularity; slapping a white child; and stealing hogs to name a few.
In East Texas a black man and his three sons were lynched for the grand crime of harvesting the first cotton of the season. Only 19% of those lynched were ever charged with rape. Fewer were ever proven.
It should be remembered that it was not only Black men who were killed during this era. The lynching of Mary Turner best illustrates this. Turner, a pregnant Black woman, was lynched in Valdosta, Georgia in 1918. Turner was tied to a tree, doused with gasoline and motor oil and burned.
As she dangled from the rope, a man stepped forward with a pocketknife and ripped open her abdomen in a crude Cesarean operation. A news reporter who witnessed the killing wrote, Out tumbled the prematurely born child. Two feeble cries it gave—and received for the answer the heel of a stalwart man, as life was ground out of the tiny form. There was a Silent Protest March of 1917 against lynching which featured the famous banner, Mother, do lynchers go to heaven?
Voi jumalatonta! Hänen käy pahoin, sillä hänen kättensä teot maksetaan hänelle. Jesaja 3:11 Ida B. Wells was one of the most outspoken crusaders against lynchings, burnings, and other acts of white on Black violence. For forty years she rallied her cause in both America and Europe. A radical for her times, Wells worked feverishly to dispel the myth of the sex-starved, white skin lusting, black rapist. This was an act which put her life in danger time and time again. No pacifist, she stated defiantly that the greatest deterrent against lynching was for every Black man to keep a Winchester rifle at his window. Ida B. Wells wrote several long and detailed studies on lynchings which are still regarded as some of the best works on the subject even today.

White Riots

Often the word ‘riot’ conveys in one’s head the idea of Black urban residents rebelling as seen since the 1960s. But riots were a part of America long before Blacks decided to take part. Throughout the United States, riots erupted as angry white citizenry of all classes took to the streets to terrorize and attack Blacks.
They took place in Memphis, Chicago, Wilmington, and elsewhere. Entire prosperous Black districts were destroyed in Oklahoma, Texas and Florida by jealous whites. These white riots were numerous both in the North and South and were often helped along by the local police or militia.
blackman being burnt
Many lynchings of course were never reported beyond the community involved. Furthermore, mobs used especially sadistic tactics when blacks were the prime targets. By the 1890s lynchers increasingly employed burning, torture, and dismemberment to: prolong suffering and excite a: ‘festive atmosphere’ among the killers and onlookers.
Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him. Isaiah 3:11


picnic crowd
Here is another little known Black History Fact. This information is in the African American Archives at the Smithsonian Institute. Although not taught in American learning institutions and literature, it is in most Black history professional circles and literature that the origin of the term: ‘picnic’ derives from the acts of lynching African-Americans.
The word: ‘picnic’ is rooted from the whole theme of: ‘Pick A Nigger’.
This is where individuals would: ‘pic’ a Black person to lynch… and make this into: a family gathering…. There would be music and a: ‘picnic’. (‘Nic’ being the white acronym for: ‘nigger’). Scenes of this were in the movie Rosewood. The black producers and writers should have chosen to use the word ‘barbecue’ or ‘outing’ instead of the word ‘picnic’.
To attempt to tie lynchings to family outings, where food was served, is to misunderstand the real nature of these events. Rather, they were outbreaks of mass white hysteria, and attempts by groups of Whites to terrorize and brutalize the entire Black communities where they occurred.
Often, they were motivated by alleged acts of violence by Blacks against Whites, alleged disrespect and other breaches of Southern racial ‘etiquette’, and on many occasions, victims were chosen at random. Although women and children were frequently present, it is more accurate to view these events as collective psychotic behavior, rather than family outings. Lynching had become a ritual of interracial social control and recreation rather than simply a punishment for crime.
If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched, declared James Vardaman while he was governor of Mississippi (1904-1908). It will be done to maintain white supremacy.
Malheur au méchant! Il est sur la mauvaise (voie). Car il lui sera fait ce que ses mains aruont préparé. Êsaîe 3.11

Christian-Charles de Plicque, Evangelist/Journalist
Angel House International Missions Ministries Karleby Finland
Article available in: Also in French & Swedish
Strange Fruit: Lyrics & Music by: Abel Meeropol 1939 (A Jewish School teacher)
Angel House International Missions Ministries Finland wishes to express much gratitude to the African American Holocost Society for the use of the photos in this article.
African American Holocaust


January 28, 2011




Emmett Till Case – The Nation Is Horrified by the Emmett Till Murder – Jet Magazine, September 15, 1955

These scans come from my rather large magazine collection. Instead of filling my house with old moldy magazines, I scanned them (in most cases, photographed them) and filled a storage area with moldy magazines. Now they reside on an external harddrive. I thought others might appreciate these tidbits of forgotten history.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts or impressions… They are happily appreciated!

Comments and faves

  1. Hi -I am doing a paper on Emmett TIll- do you have scans of the gruesome pictures that appeared in JEt I think in this same article on the 15th?

    thanks these archives are amazing

  2. Actually, I have the issue but at the time, Jet Magazine didn’t print the picture in all issues. In the issue I have the photo is not there. Another person I know has the same issue (she was from New York) with the photo in it. I suppose the photo was published in the areas that could stomach it…
  3. pookie85281 and bley.mary added this photo to their favorites.
  4. This is horrible. Just horrible. It shows just how ruthless racists can be. There are still racists today who would do this to a child. And what was with the FBI not wanting to be involved because it was a local crime? I thought kidnappings were one of the category of crimes the FBI took part in. I wouldn’t doubt Hoover was not interested in it because he was a racist.
  5. Horrific, tragic, beyond comprehension. Thank you for sharing.
  6. I have studied about racism in the world, and came to the conclusion that the USA feels ashamed of
     what blacks went. But that is not enough. The division is within man. Before they were blacks, Hispanics today are … One day you will feel the same shame.777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777


    15,000 New Yorkers Want Emmett Till Protest March in Mississippi – Jet Magazine, October 6, 1955

    Click the “All Sizes” button above to read an article or to see the image clearly.

    These scans come from my rather large magazine collection. Instead of filling my house with old moldy magazines, I scanned them (in most cases, photographed them) and filled a storage area with moldy magazines. Now they reside on an external harddrive. I thought others might appreciate these tidbits of forgotten history.


January 28, 2011


FROM he Other Alternatives.

Monday, August 31, 2009

<a imageanchor=”1″ target=”_blank” href=”;tag=bib-05-20&amp;link_code=bil&amp;camp=213689&amp;creative=392969″><img alt=”The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” src=”;ServiceVersion=20070822&amp;ID=AsinImage&amp;WS=1&amp;Format=_SL160_&amp;ASIN=B000DZ95MQ&amp;tag=bib-05-20″></a><img src=”;l=bil&amp;camp=213689&amp;creative=392969&amp;o=1&amp;a=B000DZ95MQ&#8221; alt=”” style=”border: medium none ! important; margin: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important;” width=”1″ border=”0″ height=”1″><br>

Remembering The Black Maverick: Dr. T.R.M. Howard<iframe src=”;o=1&amp;p=8&amp;l=bpl&amp;asins=B000DZ95MQ&amp;fc1=000000&amp;IS2=1&amp;lt1=_blank&amp;m=amazon&amp;lc1=0000FF&amp;bc1=000000&amp;bg1=FFFFFF&amp;f=ifr&#8221; style=”padding-top: 5px; width: 131px; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px;” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ align=”left” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”><iframe src=”;o=1&amp;p=8&amp;l=bpl&amp;asins=B000DZ95MQ&amp;fc1=000000&amp;IS2=1&amp;lt1=_blank&amp;m=amazon&amp;lc1=0000FF&amp;bc1=000000&amp;bg1=FFFFFF&amp;f=ifr&#8221; style=”padding-top: 5px; width: 131px; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px;” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ align=”left” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”>
T.R.M. Howard, An Unlikely Civil Rights Hero
Without Howard, A Wealthy And Flamboyant Black Planter And Surgeon, We Might Never Have Heard Of Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers Or Operation PUSH.

By David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito

Picture from the Emmett Till trial, taken in 1955. Left to Right: Two witnesses at the trial on the murder of Emmett Till, Mamie Till Mobley (Till’s mother), T.R.M. Howard, Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan, Amanda Bradley (trial witness). Credit: Press-Scimitar Collection.

August 28, 2009

Fifty-four years ago today, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy visiting family in Mississippi, was abducted, mutilated and slain after he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Several days later, his horribly disfigured body was fished out of the Tallahatchie River. Many such tragedies had previously happened to black Americans and then been ignored. The Till case was different because of the efforts of a flamboyant and wealthy black planter and surgeon, T.R.M. Howard.

Howard’s place in history has been woefully slighted. Without him, we might never have heard of Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers or Operation PUSH. Howard was the crucial link connecting the Till slaying and the rise of the modern civil rights movement.

But he was an unlikely civil rights hero. A prosperous businessman who spared no expense on his wardrobe, sped around in expensive Cadillacs, gambled on horses, ran a successful hospital that provided affordable healthcare, hunted big game in Africa and owned a 1,000-acre plantation, Howard promoted an agenda of entrepreneurship and self-help.

Before his quest for justice in the 1955 slaying of Till, Howard led massive rallies and successful boycotts for equal rights in rural Mississippi. Evers, who went on to become a celebrated civil rights activist and martyr, got his introduction to both business and activism when Howard hired him as a salesman for the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Co., one of Howard’s many business ventures. Howard encouraged Evers to get involved with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, a civil rights group Howard founded in 1951. (Howard would go on to play a similar mentoring role to the young Hamer.)

Till’s killing moved Howard to even greater efforts. Vowing that there would be “hell to pay in Mississippi,” Howard gave over his home as a “command center” for black journalists and witnesses, including Mamie Till-Mobley (Emmett’s mother). He doggedly pushed the theory that more people had been involved in the crime than the two white half-brothers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Sadly, as Howard had predicted in September 1955, an all-white jury ignored the overwhelming evidence and acquitted Milam and Bryant. Howard remarked bitterly that a white man was less likely to suffer a penalty for such a crime than for “killing deer out of season.”

But the acquittal was just the beginning of Howard’s fight. In the months after the trial, he gave speeches across the country to crowds of thousands, demanding a federal investigation. Mississippi’s white press, which had once lauded Howard’s self-help activities, was outraged. The Jackson Daily News castigated Howard as “Public Enemy No. 1.” So scathing was Howard’s criticism of the FBI’s failure to protect blacks that J. Edgar Hoover took the rare step of denouncing Howard in an open letter.

One of the least publicized stops on Howard’s speaking tour was to an overflow crowd Nov. 27 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. The official host was a largely unknown 26-year-old pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks was in the audience. Four days later, when she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, Howard’s speech was still headline news in the local black press. Parks reported that she was thinking of Emmett Till, a focal point of Howard’s address, when she made her decision to act.

Though Howard spent much of his life in Kentucky, Mississippi and Illinois, his political formation came in Southern California, where he attended the College of Medical Evangelists (now Loma Linda University) in the early 1930s. While there, Howard wrote a celebrated weekly column called “Our Fight” for the California Eagle, worked on the political campaigns of radio preacher Robert Schuller and socialist author Upton Sinclair, and met his wife, the Riverside socialite Helen Nela Boyd.

Why isn’t this larger-than-life figure better known? Howard, a classically American “man on the make,” is hard to pigeonhole. His secular orientation and pro-business ideas made him an anomaly in a civil rights movement dominated by church leaders and left-liberal activists. Politically, his activities offer something to please and offend everybody: A staunch Republican and ally of President Eisenhower, Howard was also a committed feminist whose clinics offered safe abortions in the years before Roe vs. Wade.

But those who knew T.R.M. Howard (who died in 1976 at age 68) still speak about his energy, charisma and commitment. “The man was dynamic,” recalled Mamie Till-Mobley. “I just thought he was the greatest in the world.”

Visit for more information…

David T. Beito, a professor of history at the University of Alabama, and Linda Royster Beito, the chair of the department of social sciences at Stillman College, are the authors of “Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power.”

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Contact An American Civil Rights Veteran Today:

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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Ghosts Of Emmett Till…

July 31, 2005
The Ghosts of Emmett Till
The New York Times

We’ve known his story forever, it seems. Maybe that’s because it’s a tale so stark and powerful that it has assumed an air of timelessness, something almost mythical: Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black kid born and raised in Chicago, went down in August 1955 to visit some relatives in the hamlet of Money, Miss. One day, he walked into a country store there, Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, and, on a dare, said something fresh to the white woman behind the counter — 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the owner’s wife — or asked her for a date, or maybe wolf-whistled at her. A few nights later, her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half brother, J.W. Milam, yanked young Till out of bed and off into the dark Delta, where they beat, tortured and, ultimately, shot him in the head and pushed him into the Tallahatchie River. His body, though tied to a heavy cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, surfaced a few days later, whereupon Bryant and Milam were arrested and charged with murder.

Reporters from all over the country — and even from abroad — converged upon the little courthouse in Sumner, Miss., to witness the trial. The prosecution mounted an excellent case and went after the defendants with surprising vigor; the judge was eminently fair, refusing to allow race to become an issue in the proceedings, at least overtly. Nevertheless, the jury, 12 white men, acquitted the defendants after deliberating for just 67 minutes — and only that long, one of them said afterward, because they stopped to have a soda pop in order to stretch things out and ”make it look good.” Shortly thereafter, the killers, immune from further prosecution, met with and proudly confessed everything to William Bradford Huie, a journalist who published their story in Look magazine.

Yes, we know this story very well — perhaps even too well. It has been like a burr in our national consciousness for 50 years now. From time to time it has flared up, inspiring commemorative outbursts of sorrow, anger and outrage, all of which ran their course quickly and then died down. But the latest flare-up, sparked by a pair of recent documentaries, ”The Murder of Emmett Till” and ”The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” has spread to the federal government: last year, the Department of Justice announced that it was opening a new investigation into the case. This spring, Till’s body was exhumed and autopsied for the first time. It has been reported that officials may be ready to submit a summary of their findings — an ”exhaustive report,” as one described it — to the local district attorney in Mississippi by the end of this year. The only person in the Department of Justice who would comment on any aspect of the investigation was Jim Greenlee, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, who would say only that its objective was ”to get the facts about what exactly happened that day and who might be culpable.”

I have spent a good bit of time trying to do the same thing, even though it’s hard to see how I might have any kind of connection with the story of Emmett Till. I am a white man from the Northeast who is not a lawyer or an investigator or an activist; what’s more, the whole thing happened a dozen years before I was born. But as is the case with so many other people, the story took fierce hold of me the first time I heard it, as a junior in college in 1987, and it has never let go. It drove me, after graduation, to take a job at The Greenwood Commonwealth, a daily newspaper in Greenwood, Miss., just nine miles from Money. There, I found myself surrounded by people who really were connected, in one way or another, with the case: jurors, defense lawyers, witnesses, the man who owned the gin fan. My boss, a decent man who was relatively progressive when it came to matters of race, nevertheless forbade me to interview any of them — even to ask any of them about it casually — during the year I worked for him.

In 1995, when I found myself back in the Delta to conduct interviews and cover a trial for what would eventually become a book about Mississippi, I took the opportunity to try to talk with the people I couldn’t back when I lived there. Unfortunately, many of them had died in the interim, including Roy Bryant. (J.W. Milam died in 1980.) After a good bit of detective work, I managed to track down Carolyn Bryant, only to be told by a man who identified himself as her son that he would kill me if I ever tried to contact his mother. I laughed loudly into the phone, more out of surprise than amusement. ”I’m not joking,” he said, sounding a bit surprised himself. ”Really, I’m not!”

There were others, though, who were willing to talk, were even quite obliging about it, which surprised me, because these were men who had rarely, if ever, been interviewed on the subject. You see, I wasn’t interested in talking to Till’s cousins and other members of the local black community, the people who had been there with him at the store, who had witnessed or heard tell of his abduction and had worried that they might be next. Those people had been interviewed many times already; I knew what they had to say, empathized with them, understood them. The people I wanted to interview were those with whom I couldn’t empathize, those I didn’t understand. I wanted to sit down with the men who were complicit in what I considered to be a second crime committed against Emmett Till — the lawyers who defended his killers in court and the jurors who set them free. I wanted to ask: How could they do it? How did they feel about it now? And how had they lived with it for 40 years?

I talked to four of them. They’re all dead now.

The Kid

Ray Tribble is easy to spot in the photographs and newsreel footage of the trial: whereas 11 of the jurors appear to be staid middle-aged or elderly men, Tribble is wiry and young, in his 20’s. Later he became an affluent man, a large landowner, president of the Leflore County Board of Supervisors. Whenever his name came up — which it did fairly often, at least when I lived in Greenwood — it was uttered with great respect. I was in town for six months before I learned that he had been on the Emmett Till jury.

Six years later, I called Tribble to see if he would talk to me about the trial. He didn’t really want to, he said, but I was welcome to come over to his house and visit for a while. He might discuss it a bit, and he might not, but in any event, he didn’t feel comfortable with my bringing a tape recorder, or even a note pad.

Tribble lived way out in the country, about five miles north of the crumbling building that had once been Bryant’s Grocery. He met me on the front lawn and ushered me inside, where we talked a good while about everything, it seemed, but what I had gone there to discuss. Then, I recall, he suddenly offered, ”You want to know about that thing, do you?” I did.

He had first suspected it might not be just another trial, he said, when reporters started showing up; then the camera trucks clogged the square, and the jury was sequestered, lodged in the upper floor of a local hotel. He recalled one member managed to bring a radio in so the men could listen to a prizefight. And then, without any emphasis at all, he added, ”There was one of ’em there liked to have hung that jury.” One juror, he explained — not him, but another man — had voted twice to convict, before giving up and joining the majority.

I was stunned. I had always heard, and believed, that the jury’s brief deliberation had been a mere formality. This news forced upon me a belated yet elementary epiphany: the Emmett Till jury was not a machine, an instrument of racism and segregation, a force of history. It was just like any other jury — a body composed of 12 individuals. One of whom, apparently, was somewhat reluctant to commit an act that history has since ruled inevitable.

Tribble told me he couldn’t recall which juror, but said it in a way that made me wonder if he truly couldn’t remember or if he could but didn’t care to say. I ran some names by him, but he would neither confirm nor deny any of them, and fearing that the conversation might soon be coming to an end, I changed the subject and posed the question I had wanted to ask him for six years: Why did he vote to acquit?

He explained, quite simply, that he had concurred with the defense team’s core argument: that the body fished out of the Tallahatchie River was not that of Emmett Till — who was, they claimed, still very much alive and hiding out in Chicago or Detroit or somewhere else up North — but someone else’s, a corpse planted there by the N.A.A.C.P. for the express purpose of stirring up a racial tornado that would tear through Sumner, and through all of Mississippi, and through the rest of the South, for that matter.

Ray Tribble wasn’t stupid. He was a sharp, measured man who had worked hard and done well for himself and his community. How, I asked him, could he buy such an argument? Hadn’t Emmett Till’s own mother identified the body of her son? Hadn’t that body been found wearing a ring bearing the initials LT, for Louis Till, the boy’s dead father?

Tribble looked at me earnestly. That body, he told me, his voice assuming a didactic tone, ”had hair on its chest.” And everybody knows, he continued, that ”blacks don’t grow hair on their chest until they get to be about 30.”

The Bootstrapper

In 1955, Joseph Wilson Kellum was a lawyer in Sumner, Miss. In 1995, he was still a lawyer in Sumner, and still practicing out of the same office, across the street from the courtroom where Bryant and Milam were tried and acquitted. J.W. Kellum was their defense attorney.

He was actually one of five; it is said that the defendants hired every lawyer in Sumner so that the state would not be able to appoint any of them a special prosecutor on the case. Kellum gave one of two closing statements for the defense, during which he told the jurors that they were ”absolutely the custodians of American civilization” and implored them, ”I want you to tell me where under God’s shining sun is the land of the free and the home of the brave if you don’t turn these boys loose — your forefathers will absolutely turn over in their graves!”

Kellum was a 28-year-old grocery clerk who had never attended college when, in 1939, he took the state bar exam, passed it and immediately started a solo law practice. For more than 50 years his office was a plain, squat concrete structure bulging with messy piles of books and files and papers, unremarkable but for its proximity to the courthouse. We talked there for 90 minutes, and he never once grew defensive or refused to answer a question. At the start, he told me, he had regarded the defense of Bryant and Milam as ”just another case over the desk.” Had he ever asked them if they killed Emmett Till?

”Yeah,” he said, ”they denied that they had did it.”

I asked if he had believed them. ”Yeah, I believed them,” he replied, ”just like I would if I was interrogating a client now. I would have no reason to think he’s lying to me.”

I quoted his statement about the jurors’ forefathers turning over in their graves if the defendants were convicted. What had he meant by that? ”Their forefathers, possibly, would not have ever convicted any white man for killing a black man,” he explained. I asked Kellum if he’d had any misgivings about appealing to the jury’s racial attitudes that way. ”No, not at the time,” he replied.

”Did you feel the same way at the time?” I asked.

”Not now,” he said. He told me about a Vietnamese boy he sponsored in 1975, after the fall of Saigon. I restated the question. ”Put it this way,” he said. ”I didn’t feel that it was justifiable in killing an individual, regardless of what his color might be. I didn’t think any white man had a right to kill an individual — black individual — like he was a dog.”

How, then, could he have so passionately implored the jury, in his closing argument, to rule in a way that would nullify those very values? ”I was trying to say something that would meet with — where they would agree with me, you see. Because I was employed to defend those fellas. And I was going to defend them as much as I could and stay within the law. Those statements were not — I received no admonition during the argument from the judge at all.”

”So you just looked at it as part of your job?”

”Part of the day’s work,” he said.

Did he now believe that Bryant and Milam had, in fact, murdered Till?

”I would have to see something,” he said. ”But they told me they did not. They told the other lawyers that they did not. I have not seen anything where it was supposed to have been an admission of guilt on their part.”

If that statement were true, it would make him quite possibly the only man alive at the time who had not read or at least heard about Huie’s Look article. But I didn’t press him on it, didn’t call him a liar. The strange thing is that, in my memory, I had always pressed J.W. Kellum hard, maybe even a bit too hard; for 10 years, I felt a bit guilty about how pointedly I had posed difficult questions to a rather genial octogenarian who had graciously invited me into his office and offered me as much of his time as I wanted. Today, though, when I read through the transcript of that conversation, I can’t help feeling that I was too easy on the man. I guess we all make accommodations with the past.

The Aristocrat

It is not widely known, but shortly after they were acquitted, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam suffered a series of reversals. The family owned a string of small stores in the Delta; almost all of their customers were black, and most of them boycotted the stores, which soon closed. Local banks, with one exception, refused to lend money to Milam, who was also a farmer, to help him plant and harvest his crop. The one exception was the little Bank of Webb; Huie speculated that the bank came to Milam’s rescue because John Wallace Whitten Jr., another member of the defense team, sat on its loan committee. According to Huie (who later paid the brothers for the film rights to their story), it was Whitten who brokered the Look interview, which took place in Whitten’s small law office. Forty years later, Whitten sat down in that same office to discuss the trial with me.

Whitten was a most unlikely savior for two such men. A scion of one of the area’s oldest and most prominent families, he went to college and law school at Ole Miss. After graduation, he shipped off to the war in Europe, where he rose to the rank of captain and was awarded a Bronze Star. When he returned home, J.J. Breland, the senior lawyer in town, asked Whitten to join his law firm. Such was the stature of the Whitten name that Breland, who was more than three decades older than Whitten, immediately renamed his firm Breland & Whitten.

Whitten was 76 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease when we met in 1995, and though he was still practicing law, he often had difficulty speaking. Despite that — and the fact that, as he told me later, his wife had ”fussed” at him for agreeing to speak with me — he was a gracious and open host, and like Kellum, never grew defensive or refused to answer a question.

One of his responsibilities before the trial, he told me, was to go down to Greenwood and meet with Dr. L.B. Otken, who examined the body after it was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. Otken, he recalled, had told him, ”This is a dead body, but it doesn’t belong to that young man that they’re looking for.” Did he really believe that? ”I’m sure I did at one time,” Whitten said. ”I’m sure he convinced me of it.” Had his thinking since changed? ”Oh, yes,” he said. ”I believe that it was the body of Till.”

I appreciated his candor, even as I suspected it was a bit incomplete. Or perhaps Whitten was merely choosing his words very carefully; when he said, ”I’m sure I did at one time,” the natural interpretation is, ”I must have, or I never would have done what I did.” But I doubt very much that a man like John Whitten could have actually believed such a dubious thing at any time; I imagine that he and the rest of the defense weren’t really trying to sell that argument to the jurors so much as they were offering it to them as an instrument of plausible deniability should anyone question their judgment in the future. And now, like J.W. Kellum, he seemed to be engaging in a bit of historical revisionism.

And he clung to it, even when I read to him from an account of his closing argument that had been published in The Greenwood Commonwealth on Sept. 23, 1955:

There are people in the United States who want to destroy the way of life of Southern people. . . . There are people . . . who will go as far as necessary to commit any crime known to man to widen the gap between the white and colored people of the United States. They would not be above putting a rotting, stinking body in the river in the hope it would be identified as Emmett Till.

I asked him if he had really believed those things as he was saying them. He said yes, then surprised me by adding: ”And I suppose I would probably say I still believe it. I believe there were certain people who would profit by it.”

Whitten then revealed something else about himself: clients may have hired him for his old Delta name, but what they got in the bargain was a savvy lawyer who wanted to win and knew how to do it. ”That’s one of the benefits of arguing where the prosecutor just has a circumstantial case,” he said. ”If it’s just circumstantial, you can go argue your own circumstances over his, and if they believe you, you win.”

I asked him if he thought the jury had reached the correct verdict. ”Under the circumstances, I don’t know if correct would be the right word,” he told me. ”But I think it was sustainable.” Had he since come to believe the defendants guilty? ”I expect, yes,” he said. ”If you had to put me down as — if I had to say one way or the other what my belief was, it would be that the body was that of Till and he had been put in the river. These people either did it or knew of it.”

I raised the subject of his having helped get a loan for Milam — who, like Whitten, was a veteran of World War II, and a highly decorated one at that — after the trial. Huie had quoted Whitten as saying: ”Yes, I helped him. He was a good soldier. In a minefield at night, when other men were running and leaving you to do the killing, J.W. Milam stood with you. When a man like that comes to you and his kids are hungry, you don’t turn him down.”

”Did you really feel that he was a good man?” I asked.

”Yes, I did. Now, I don’t say I felt like he was a man I wanted to know and be with every day. But I felt like he was honest. I felt like he was — could be counted on to do things and look after his family. I never changed my mind about that.”

”Well, how is it possible that he did this, then?”

He was silent for a moment. ”I don’t know,” he said.

I asked him if he didn’t see a conflict there: how could he believe both that Milam was a good man and that he was a murderer? ”Well, if that’s what you’re to judge by,” he said. ”I don’t know whether doing this means he’s bad or not. I can’t — I’m sure I would have done differently, but I don’t dismiss him in every respect because he made one mistake — bad mistake, but his children are still — he’s still entitled to work and feed his children.”

He was clearly feeling uneasy now, and I could see that it was not merely with this line of questioning; his discomfort, I suspected, mirrored the way he had felt 40 years earlier when he had been called upon to defend men of a type he did not associate with, men who had committed a crime he no doubt considered distasteful, to say the least. People of John Whitten’s background, his station, did not do such things, or embrace those who did. And yet, in killing Emmett Till, Milam and Bryant had drawn fire from the outside world, not just upon themselves and their crime, but upon their state and their region and nothing less than the entire Southern way of life. And John Whitten, as one of the chief beneficiaries of that way of life, had been called upon to defend it by defending them.

Adding to that burden must have been the knowledge that, in the process, he had become something of a spokesman for white resistance: his final entreaty to the jury was the most notorious utterance of the whole affair. ”I’m sure,” Whitten told the jurors, that ”every last Anglo-Saxon one of you men in this jury has the courage to set these men free.”

”Why ‘Anglo-Saxon?”’ I asked him.

At first he offered something about Anglo-Saxons having ”a reputation for being a little harder against people who get out of line than do others,” but he quickly set that aside and explained: ”You said ‘Anglo-Saxon,’ the jury would understand what you were talking about. You’re talking about a white man.” He added, making a pointed reference to another trial that at that very moment was also polarizing the country, ”I guess you could say I was playing the race card.”

And it occurred to me, right then, just how much the defense of O.J. Simpson owed to the defense of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, and how little, in some ways, the country had changed in the past 40 years. The issue of race was still so potent that it could overwhelm evidence and hijack a jury, even when the case at hand was a brutal, savage murder. I found it interesting that Whitten made the connection; I wondered if anyone in that courtroom in Los Angeles had.

The Preacher

Sometimes, when you set out to find answers to what you believe are simple questions, what you actually end up with are more questions, the kind that are anything but simple. That’s what happened to me during those four conversations. Especially the last one.

Howard Armstrong. In 1995, he was, aside from Ray Tribble, the only living juror. In 1955, he was a 36-year-old veteran of World War II, just like John Whitten, and was living in Enid, up in the northern stem of Tallahatchie County. Most of the other jurors, he said, were from other parts of the county, and he didn’t know them. They might have known him by reputation: he was a lay minister, leader of the deacons at the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. A few years later he would be ordained, and would serve as pastor to a number of congregations for the next 35 years, finally retiring at the age of 75, just a year before we met.

As with the others, I spoke to Armstrong on the phone first, and he invited me to come by and visit — although, like Ray Tribble, he wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about the trial. No one, he told me, had ever tried to interview him on the subject. ”Ain’t a lot of people even know I served on that jury,” he said.

He was living with his wife of 53 years, Janie, in a small, neat house that sat up on a rise off a dirt road. In 1955, he was a farmer who made ends meet by working nights at a heating and air-conditioning factory in Grenada, Miss., about 30 miles away. The first he had heard of the murder of Emmett Till, he told me, was when he received his jury summons. ”I didn’t have time for much news,” he explained, ”working night shift and farming during the day.”

I asked him how he had felt about serving. ”Really and truly,” he told me, ”I can’t remember how I felt about that. I reckon I felt the way I did about serving on any other jury. I wasn’t crazy about serving on none of them. . . . I needed to be on my job and on the farm.” When I pressed him to tell me what else he remembered, he responded: ”I don’t want to pull it up. I want to leave it out there — it’s just best to leave things alone.”

”He just never did talk about that much,” his wife, who was sitting next to him, explained.

I asked about the verdict. ”I didn’t think that they presented the case to prove it,” he said of the prosecutors. ”I understand that them folks was pretty much outlaws, but I didn’t know that. I heard it years later.” He was quiet for a moment. ”I still don’t know.”

That truly surprised me. But he stood by it, insisting that the prosecution had not proven its case — otherwise, he said, ”I’d never have voted the way I did.” When I asked him what the jury deliberations had been like, he said, ”I’m sure there was a good bit of discussion. I do remember that there were at least three votes on that thing.” He must have anticipated my next question, because he quickly added, ”And I voted to acquit all three times.”

I was disappointed; somehow, I had hoped he might have been that lone dissenter. I asked if he still believed they had reached the right verdict.

”I still think they were innocent,” he said. ”I have no reason and no proof, and I don’t judge people. I went and done my duty, left my duty where it was at and went on to other things.” And no misgivings at all? ”I served to the best of my ability, under my prayer to God for guidance and wisdom. And I stand by my decision. . . . I still stand by it. I think I was right.”

”I guess you know that an awful lot of people disagreed.”

”I was surprised at all the fuss,” he said. ”I thought we deliberated that thing, came back with a decision and that should be it.” I asked him if racial tensions were sharpened there afterward. ”There wasn’t as much tensions as there are now,” he said.

”We’ve always had some good black friends,” his wife added. ”Very good.”

”Go to Charleston,” he told me, ”Talk to any of the blacks that was raised with me, and they’ll tell you I was anything but a racist.”

And I found that statement more disturbing than anything that Ray Tribble, or J.W. Kellum, or John Whitten had said to me. Because I believed him. I believed that Howard Armstrong was not a racist. I felt I had gotten to the point where I could spot a racist of almost any type in almost any circumstance, and he was not one. And yet he had voted — at least three times, by his own account — to acquit two men who were clearly guilty of a horrific, racist crime.

I have spent a lot of time contemplating that conundrum over the past 10 years, and I have come to the conclusion that at least part of the problem is ours. We tend to think of racism, and racists, the way we think of most things — in binary terms. Someone is either a racist or he isn’t. If he is a racist, he does racist things; if he isn’t, he doesn’t. But of course it’s much more complicated than that, and in the Mississippi of 1955 it was more complicated still. Today, we can look back and say that Howard Armstrong should have voted to convict Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam of murdering Emmett Till; but for him to buck the established order like that would have actually required him to make at least four courageous decisions. First, he would have had to decide that the established order, the system in which he had lived his entire life, was wrong. Second, he would have had to decide that it should change. Third, he would have had to decide that it could change. And finally, he would have had to decide that he himself should do something to change it.

Howard Armstrong never made it to that final step. Another juror apparently did, and managed to stay there through two votes before backing down. It is frustrating to me that I will probably never know who that other juror was, where he found the courage that got him that far and why, ultimately, he changed his mind. But it is even more frustrating to me to imagine that Howard Armstrong made it past Step 1 but got tripped up on 2 or 3.

I only wonder if it was frustrating for him, too. In 1995, sitting with him in his living room, I took his answers, his unwavering declarations that he had no regrets, at face value; today, I’m not so sure. Rereading my notes after 10 years, I can perceive a certain defensiveness in his words, an urge to keep the conversation short and narrow, perhaps cut off the next question before it could be asked. His insistence, like J.W. Kellum’s, that this was just another trial feels flat now. And then there’s his vacillation on the matter of whether or not the defendants were ”outlaws.” Did he really believe, in both 1955 and 1995, that Bryant and Milam were innocent, and that he himself had done the right thing in voting to set them free? Or was this merely something he repeatedly told himself — and others — to get by? I do believe he was not a racist in 1995. But had he been one in 1955 and then grew, in subsequent decades, so ashamed of that fact that he did everything he could to defeat it in his own mind?

I don’t know if Howard Armstrong could have answered those questions then, but I imagine he didn’t want to try. It was easier on him, I’m sure, to believe that he had just forgotten all about it. ”I’m glad I can’t remember those old days,” he told me near the end of our visit. ”You hear so much about ‘the good old days.’ The good old days weren’t so good.”

Richard Rubin is the author of ”Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South.” He is currently at work on a book about World War I.

Contact An American Civil Rights Veteran Today:

More On W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio:

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio Special~Meet Alvin Sykes: Civil Rights Cold Case Justice Crusader

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio Special: The Shame Of A Nation…The Emmett Till Legacy

See More Emmett Till On W.E. A.L.L. B.E.:

FBI Report: Woman Emmett Till ‘Whistled’ @ Still Alive…

What I Will Teach My Black Son To Fear….

Park In Honor Of Emmett Till Opens Friday Sept. 19, 2008, in Mississippi…

Mississippi Comes Face To Face With Brutal Past In Emmett Till Exhibit…

Tha Artivist Remembers Ernest Withers (1922-2007)…

Mississippi Still Burning Like Southern California…

No Justice, Just Us For EMMETT…

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Monday, August 24, 2009

*Breaking News*Mob Rule In Sumner,MS!!!

* For Immediate Release*

Contact: Ronald Herd II/R2C2H2 Tha Artivist
W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News
phone: 901-299-4355

On August 20, 2009, Lawyer Organizes Lynch Mob & Uses Machine Guns, Dogs & Tanks To Hunt Down A Black Man Where The Lynching Of Emmett Till Took Place…

“The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”

“Nowhere in the civilized worlds save the United States of America, do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 to 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death an individual unarmed and absolutely powerless.”
~Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Mississippi God Damn…Again
Mississippi Burning…Again
Ghosts Of Mississippi Ain’t Dead…

Nearly 54 years after the traumatic lynching of Emmett Till which shocked the nation and galvanized the Modern American Civil Rights Movement, the son of one of the lawyers who defended Till’s murderers organizes another lynch mob in Tallahatchie County out for blood…

This isn’t a Hollywood movie…Nor is this Wilmington, NC, 1898; Elaine, Arkansas, 1919; Tulsa, Ok, 1921; Rosewood, Fl, 1923…This happened Thursday, August 20, 2009 in Sumner, Ms, in Tallahatchie County…Yes the same county where a young Black boy named Emmett Till met his doom/destiny some 54 years ago this week…This time a young Black man named Will Pittman,28 years old, of Tutwiler, MS, was the target of an unauthorized manhunt by a law official and his posse of “deputized” gun toting thugs…

Sometime Thursday, August 20, 2009, Pittman & his friend McKeel Scott (at the time of this writing his whereabouts is still unknown) were accused by John Whitten III, the County Attorney of Tallahatchie County, of burglarizing the home of a neighbor and quite possible a relative…According to several sources, the boys were not actually caught in anybody’s home at that time, but were still accused. This supposed act infuriated Mr. Whitten, whose father, John Whitten Jr., was the defense attorney for the killers of Emmett Till (the brothers J.W. Milam & Roy Bryant), and so instead of going through the proper channels he decided to seek his own brand of vigilante justice, southern style.

He organized a militia of what could best be described as a lynch mob. Some of these men were actual law enforcement officers while others such as the case of an unidentified white maintenance man from Tutwiler, MS, simply wore a police uniform and was given a police car along with plenty of booze, guns and ammunition. Even the K-9 unit from the Department of Corrections at the notorious Parchman State Penitentiary was alerted for this mission. In addition to the man, fire and canine power, Whitten deployed two military tanks for the purpose of hunting down Mr. Will Pittman as well.

Around 5pm on Thursday evening, Will Pittman was Public Enemy # 1 of the Magnolia State as far as Whitten was concerned. Whitten proceeded to chase Pittman with his posse of dogs, firepower and tanks for what seem to be several hours and a hauntingly surreal event for anybody who witnessed the spectacle…As bullets were whistling all around him, Will Pittman had the presence of mind to run into a field and drop to the ground to cover himself in mud and grass.

Not knowing where Pittman was hiding with the only visible evidence being footprints that seemed to lead to nowhere, by this time the would-be executioners, literally drunken with sadistic power as well as large quantities of alcohol, out of frustration of not being able to find the wily Pittman, began to shoot wildly into and around the field with their 50 caliber machine guns, assault rifles and tank.

Several law officials in the area were well aware of as well as disturbed by what was going on in Sumner. Sheriff Deputy Willie Booker of Tallahatchie County was at the scene and called Sheriff William Brewer about what was taking place to stop the potential lynching and reinforce law and order, but was told not to get involved and leave. Not wanting the death of Will Pittman on his conscience, Sheriff Deputy Booker alerted Attorney Ellis Pittman of Clarksdale, MS, the father of Will Pittman, about the mayhem taking place up in Sumner. Once he became aware that his son was the target of lynch mob justice by a man, John Whitten III, who is a sworn mortal enemy of his from their confrontations in the judicial arena, Attorney Pittman immediately alerted the appropriate authorities and shortly thereafter got into his car in a literal race of life and death to Sumner, Ms.

However, it was the very courageous gesture from the younger brother of Will Pittman, Cornelius Pittman,24, that stopped a true tragedy from happening that day. Without a hesitating thought for his own safety and life, Cornelius went into to field to talk down the lynch mob from doing the unthinkable. Through a true act of God, Cornelius’ words of mercy resonated with one of the law enforcement officials at the gathering, K-9 Officer Michael Davies who then pleaded with the others to back off as well…

Once they find out who Will’s father was many more heeded the call…Some of the law officials then negotiated a peaceful surrender of Will Pittman to law enforcement officers and he was placed in Sumner jail without any further incident or bodily harm. John Whitten frustrated and enraged in coming up short of his intentions then allegedly told Cornelius Pittman in the field the following:

“I am going to kill Will and his whole goddamn family if I have to!”

Attorney Pittman successfully made it to the Sumner town jail to bail his son out later that evening. His son currently is being housed in a safe place and has not been publicly seen since his horrifying brush with death. Attorney Pittman was also successful in interviewing and recording several law enforcement officials about last Thursday’s incident…Surprisingly all interviewed were refreshingly honest with Attorney Pittman about the details of the manhunt confirming ‘the fact is stranger than fiction tale’ without hesitation.

As far as the behavior of lynch mob leader John Whitten is concerned, Attorney Pittman told W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News that Whitten “is supposed to be enforcing laws and not breaking them.” From what I was able to find online, Whitten was a municipal court judge for the towns of Charleston, Tutwiler, Webb and Okland, Ms. Ironically, in addition to his duties as county prosecuting attorney for Tallahatchie County he is also the city attorney for Tutwiler, a predominantly Black town with a Black mayor and 100% Black town council. Attorney Harvey Henderson was Tutwiler’s attorney before John Whitten. Harvey Henderson was also one of the actual attorneys that defended Till’s killers with John Whitten, Jr.

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News was made aware by several sources that the FBI have just started an investigation this past Sunday August 23, 2009, working closely with several state officials to get to the bottom of this incident. And on Weds. August 26, 2009 @ 9PM Central/10PM Eastern, W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio will be interviewing Attorney Ellis Pittman & longtime Mississippi Civil Rights activist and artist Sis. Margaret Block for an update about the case. Please call 646-652-4593 and join the conversation as well as tune in online at the following link:

Help Bring Awareness About What Happened In Sumner, MS, By Doing The Following…

Although WABG CH 6 in Greenville,MS interviewed some principle players in this story last week, currently there is a media blackout on this story. However, there are some things you great citizens can do to bring some truth and light to this horrible case of true human rights violations in a supposedly post-racial country supposedly governed by laws and not men. Remember we have the power of the information highway (internet) let’s use it for the power of good. The best weapon in any arsenal and war is knowledge!

“The Revolution Won’t Be Televised, But It Will Be Blogged, Podcasted, Twitted & Broadcasted Online!!!”
Keep this story circulating in cyberspace and beyond by all means necessary!!! You can do it!!!

Remember you heard this story first on W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News, the home of 21st Century citizen journalism!!!

Whitten, John (The Would-Be Lynch Mob Leader)
Tallahatchie County Prosecuting Attorney 662-375-8726
P. O. Box 369
Sumner, MS 38957

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U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D, District 2, MS)
Washington, D.C. Webmail: …
Washington, D.C. Website: …

Washington, D.C. Address
2432 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-5876
Fax: 202-225-5898

District Address
107 West Madison Street
Bolton, MS 39041
Phone: 601-866-9003
Toll Free: 800-355-9003
Fax: 601-866-9036

District Address
910 Courthouse Lane
Greenville, MS 38701
Phone: 662-335-9003
Fax: 662-334-1304

District Address
Post Office Box 356
263 East Main Street
Marks, MS 38646
Phone: 662-326-9003

District Address
3607 Medgar Evers Boulevard
Jackson, MS 39213
Phone: 601-946-9003
Fax: 601-982-5337

District Address
Post Office Box 679
106 Green Avenue
Suite 106
Mound Bayou, MS 38762
Phone: 662-741-9003
Fax: 662-741-9002

District Address
509 Highway 82 West
Greenwood, MS 38930
Phone: 662-455-9003
Fax: 662-453-0118

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Contact Info
Capitol Address
Post Office Box 139
Jackson, MS 39205
Phone: 601-359-3150
Toll Free: 877-405-0733
Fax: 601-359-3741
Key Staff Address
Dan Turner
Press Secretary
Phone: 601-359-3150
Fax: 601-359-3741

Key Staff Address
Paul Hurst
Chief of Staff
Phone: 601-359-3150
Fax: 601-359-3741

Key Staff Address
Kay Troxler
Director of Scheduling
Phone: 601-359-3150
Fax: 601-359-3741,
Mississippi 39205.


January 28, 2011


Remove From FavoritesAdd To Favorites The Emmett Till Case-1



Emmett Till was a fourteen year-old, African American boy who was viciously and mercilessly murdered three days after whistling at Carolyn Bryant, who was the wife of a white store owner named Roy Bryant. This incident occurred while he was visiting some of his family members in an area near Money, Mississippi in 1955 during that summer. Afterward, he was unrecognizable because all of the distinctive features of his face had been destroyed. His mother, Mamie Bradley, was so enraged by this occurrence that she held a funeral in which the entire body is shown for him so that the public could witness the effects of the unnecessary and immoral murder of her son. The massacre of Emmett Till would forever be noted as the spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement and encouraged many leaders to step forward in order to stand up for equal rights.

Emmett Louis Till, the only son of Louis and Mamie Till, was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 25, 1941. Emmet was primarily raised by his mother because his father was drafted into the U.S. Army by 1943, serving far away from his family in Italy. Spending most of his life with his loving mother, she decided to allow Emmett to spend his summer down in Money, Mississippi with his cousins and Uncle Mose Wright when Emmet was 14 years old in 1955. Emmett was eager to explore the south and

Emmett Till & Mamie Till
Emmett Till & Mamie Till

visit his relatives; however, he was unsure about the danger and prejudice that he would be exposed to. Before Emmett bid farewell to his mother, she warned him to be on his best behavior, especially when he associates with white folks down in the South because she was aware about the segregation and racism that led to the many murders that had taken place frequently.

When Emmett arrived on the 21st of August with his cousin Curtis Jones from the train, they both stayed with Emmett’s Great-Uncle Mose Wright, a cotton sharecropper who lives along the Mississippi Delta. At this time before the Civil Rights Movement, Tallahatchie County in Money, Mississippi had much stricter Jim Crow Laws than Chicago, especially since the Supreme Court had forced integration in southern schools. On August 24, 1955, the boys drove around the town and stopped at Bryant’s Grocery Store to purchase some candy. Emmett was bragging and showing his friends a picture of his white girlfriend outside the grocery and meat market. Consequently, the boys dared him to enter into the store and ask the white woman behind the counter out on a date, but since he was unaware of the severity of the consequences of breaking Jim Crow Laws, h

Bryant's Grocery Store
Bryant’s Grocery Store

e took on the challenge. On his way out of the store, Emmett said, “Bye baby,” and whistled at Carolyn Bryant, who worked behind the counter and was the store owner’s wife. Reports of his bold actions spread quickly through Tallahatchie County.

When this incident occurred, Roy Bryant, the owner of the market was away, but when he returned three days later and heard about it, he and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, set out to get revenge on Emmett.(2) They planned to simply beat Emmett with their .45 pistols and show him the waters of the Tallahatchie River to frighten him. (3) Mose Wright reported that at 2:30 the next morning, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam came into his home, armed with pistols and flashlights to kidnap Emmett. (2) Mose didn’t think that they would kidnap and eventually kill Emmett, but that they would simply talk to him, so he released Emmett. (3) In less than twenty-four hours, Milam and Bryant were apprehended on kidnapping charges, which they admitted to, but denied that they murdered Emmett. (2)

After kidnapping Emmett, they took him into the back of Milam’s home to beat him with pistols, but he antagonized them the entire time and never showed pain or remorse, so they took him to the Progressive Ginning Company to get a seventy-five pound fan, which was part o

Emmett's Identification RIng
Emmett’s Identification RIng

f a cotton gin. Afterward, they transported him to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, where they forced him to carry the fan to a certain spot, and ordered him to remove his clothing, and asked if he still thought that they were joking. When he still didn’t appear to be afraid and taunted them again, J.W. Milam shot Emmett in the head near his ear. After shooting him, they tied him up with barbed wire to the fan and threw his dead body into the Tallahatchie River, which had a depth of twenty feet. Afterward, they burned his clothing, probably to remove evidence. Three days later, two fishermen found the disfigured body of Emmett Till floating in the Tallahatchie River. (3)It was almost impossible to determine the owner of the body because the face was so badly disfigured. Emmett’s right eye had been gouged out, he had a broken nose, and there was a bullet hole in the side of his head where he had been shot. Moses Wright was only able to identify the body because of the ring with his father’s initials on Emmett’s finger.

Roy Bryant & J.W. Milam
Roy Bryant & J.W. Milam

Emmett Till’s mom, Mamie immediately went to Mississippi to identify her son’s body after she was inform
ed from Mose Wright. After she was notified by the news of her son’s gruesome murder, she had his body sent back to Chicago, where she had a funeral with an open casket so that the public could witness the effects of the unnecessary and violent murder of her 14 year old son. There were 50,000 people who attended his funeral, including reporters from Jet Magazine, which brought international attention to the lynching. (4)

The trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam occurred on September 19, 1955 in Sumner, Mississippi. There were 12 white men from Tallahatchie County in the jury of the murder trial, as African-Americans and women weren’t allowed to serve in this jury. At the trial, Bryant a

The Mutilation of Emmett Till's Face
The Mutilation of Emmett Till’s Face

nd Milam claimed that they had safely released Emmett after kidnapping him on that fateful night, that Emmett was still alive. and that Emmett’s body wasn’t the body that was found in the Tallahatchie River. Although it was difficult to find witnesses for the case, Willie Reed testified, saying that he heard screaming being emitted from the Milam home, Mose Wright testified to the fact that Bryant and Milam had kidnapped Emmett, and Mamie, his mother, testified that the body was indeed Emmett’s.Even though there was substantial evidence against them, Bryant and Milam were released free of charges. After the trial, they were paid 4,000 by Look Magazine for their confession to the murder of Emmett Till, but were never punished for this heinous crime. (4)

What started the whole problem was Carolyn Bryant and her testimony that enraged her husband to seek revenge in Emmett Till. During the trial, she testified that she was by herself in the store until a group of black kids was out front. She claims that Emmett entered the store to purchase some bubble gum, so she handed him the gum, but he grabbed her hand and asked for a date. She declares that she wasn’t interested in a date but Emmett wouldn’t let her get by. Eventually Emmett left the store and went back outside. She wanted to go obtain a gun in her husband’s car and Emmett gave her the “Wolf Whistle.” According to Carolyn’s testimonies, these could be many of the possible events that could have taken place that evening, yet we are still unsure until this very day as to what actually really happened, and what Carolyn testified to the jury.

The murder of Emmett Louis Till sparked the Civil Rights Movement because it portrayed the gruesome effects of racism and discrimination throughout the world. The death of 14 year old Emmett gave whites a bad reputation, which contributed to the rise of new Civil Rights Movements that ended segregation and inequality. Very much like a domino effect, the murder of Emmett Till shortly led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling segregation in public recreational facilities unconstitutional, then with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white male on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and then the Montgomery Bus Boycott was set off in motion. The Emmett Till Case inspired many individuals to stand up for what they believed in because Milam and Bryant were most definitely not innocent. During that time period, prejudice was so dreadful that witnesses who decide to testify must be escorted to and from their destination with safety precautions. A major impact of the Emmett Till Trial would be Dr. Martin Luther King. He was a big contributor towards the Civil Rights Movement, particularly when he gave his first civil rights speech and becomes president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. As a dedication towards the Emmet Till Trial, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was developed, thus leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. All of these events signify the beginning of the black civil rights movement in America, and in the end, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning discrimination and segregation.


[1.] Cozzens, Lisa. “The Murder of Emmett Till”. June 2,2009

[2.] Crowe, Chris. “The Lynching of Emmett Till”. The History of Jim Crow. June 2,2009

[3.] Huie, Bradford, William. “The Shocking Story of Approved killing in Mississipi”. Spartacus Educational. June 2,2009 <>.

McElrath, Jessica. “The Murder of Emmett Till”., a part of The New York Times Company. June 1,2009 <>.

[5.] Moody, Anne. ” Emmett Till”. Spartacus Educational. June 2,2009

[6.] “Timeline: The Murder of Emmett Till”. PBS. June 2,2009


January 19, 2011


By Allison Samuels | NEWSWEEK090521_cu07slavecastle_330-vertical

By Allison Samuels | NEWSWEEK
It takes four hours on an un-air-conditioned minibus called a tro-tros to get from Accra, the capital of Ghana, to the town of Elmina. The drive is lovely, especially when the road dances above the beautiful Cape Coast and when it enters Elmina’s twisty streets lined with palm trees and hundreds of people trading fish like we buy hamburgers at McDonald’s. The town’s main attraction is a huge white castle that sits on top of a hill. From the road it appears so suddenly, it takes your breath away. The Elmina Castle, with its enormous white walls and red-tile roofs peering out onto the Indian Ocean, could easily be confused for some decaying Mediterranean resort. Such a pretty building—for a hellhole. Elmina Castle is actually one of 20 buildings running along the Ghanaian coast that housed African captives before they were shipped off to the New World. Which is why these buildings are more commonly, and oxymoronically, known as slave castles.
The Portuguese built Elmina Castle in 1482 as a trading post for goods bartered for local gold and gems. As demand for slaves increased in America and the Caribbean, the castle began to store a more precious and perishable trade. Although the castle is empty now, there are many reminders of its horrible past on the inside. In the middle of the courtyard stands a cast-iron ball and chain the size of a backyard barbecue; slaves who disobeyed, including women who refused to sleep with their captors, were shackled to it and left to die in the burning African sun. The castle’s interior is rimmed with closet-size rooms where the Africans waited for their dock at the shore. When our guide offered my tour group a chance to get locked into a cell to experience what it might have felt like to be held there, I was the only one to decline. The tears were beginning to well up as I wandered off alone, thinking of how my ancestors would have been crammed on top of each with no room to breath, and without knowing that their lives would only get worse on the ships that would take them through the “middle passage” and across the ocean. If they made it that far.
The tour ended at a dank, dark cell that housed only a door: the “door of no return,” an iron gate that led to the planks where the captives were loaded on the ships. Wreaths, flowers and other mementos surrounding the door now pay tribute to the lives that passed through it, and were changed or lost forever. As I peered through the holes in the gate and gazed at the Indian Ocean beyond, I realized that walking in the footsteps of my African ancestors was perhaps even more painful than I imagined it would be ever since I watched Roots as a child in the ’70s. That feeling was complicated by the fact that because the history of slavery isn’t taught in the Ghanaian schools, many of the children and adults I met simply thought of me as a foreigner, and what they call “ye vu”—white visitor. I felt like a stranger in a land where the people looked exactly like me. Yet I felt like a native, too. I guess going home can be like that—sadness and wonder all mixed together. That’s especially true when you follow the path back to your ancestors and find yourself looking at the door of no return.


January 5, 2011


A ‘Priscilla’s Homecoming’ Journal

A week with ‘Priscilla’s Posse’
By Jeanine Talley

Freetown’s history

Antawn and Thomalind PoliteAntawn and Thomalind Polite

I spent a week in early summer 2005 with Priscilla’s descendant, Thomalind Martin Polite, her husband, Antawn, and an entourage of about twenty other Americans (and one woman from Britain) touring and experiencing the spirit and welcome of the “lion mountain” country of Sierra Leone. The small nation rests on the curve of Africa’s west coast, encompassing the continent’s farthest western point and its largest natural harbor. Its capital, Freetown, with a population of 1.2 million, rests just outside that harbor.
Freetown was founded in the late 1700s by a group of newly freed slaves who fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War. These black soldiers came mostly from South Carolina and Virginia plantations. At first the British evacuated them to Canada but later decided to return the Africans to their homeland. A large, ancient cotton tree in Freetown is said to have started life when these settlers first arrived and remains a source of pride and nationalism to this day. Sierra Leone continued to exist as a British colony for another 169 years until it gained independence in 1961.

Who is Pricilla?

As the last notes of the uniquely composed narrative song written and performed by the Freetong Players, a local a cappella group, drifted through the large meeting room, the speechless crowd scarcely knew how to respond to such an emotional musical experience. Only a few moments ago, I watched Polite’s face shake with emotion as the song’s words embraced her almost as if the spirit of Priscilla was sitting in that very room. For the audience, it was an incredible, euphoric moment. Priscilla was a child of strength, resilience and determination; and after years of living in a foreign land, her descendant had brought her spirit home.
But Polite experienced an extra surprise. As JMU professor Joe Opala later said, “It wasn’t until that night at the embassy [when] the Freetong Players performed, singing [Priscilla’s] story, [that Polite] really believed that they were welcoming her home [too].” So the event honored not only the ancestor who was kidnapped from her land so many years ago but also the living descendant who, too, was returning home.

Priscilla’s Posse

A traditional dance A traditional dance

Our seven days spent as “Priscilla’s Posse” included a full schedule of meetings with Sierra Leone’s president, vice president and other high ranking governmental officials; presentations at the American Embassy and National Museum; theatrical performances at Fourah Bay College; boat trips to a traditional Susu village and slave castle; and a reception at the American ambassador’s residence.
It is not possible to describe all of the details or accurately capture the awe we felt during our visit. We witnessed hundreds of Susu village dancers and musicians compete for Polite’s attention and recognition in a Yeliba performance; we sang “Amazing Grace” to the beat of African drums during an early morning service honoring women (Polite included) in the Star by the Sea Catholic Church; and we laughed with Sierra Leone’s president when he joked that it may take parliament a while to “pass the paperwork,” after offering Thomalind and Antawn Polite dual citizenship to his country.
Nothing compares to the chartered bus ride through the country as children screamed “Priscilla! Priscilla!” and slapped the vehicle’s sides if they were close enough or to the experience of standing on the last piece of land where thousands of captured Africans last touched their beloved home. We finally understood the strength that the 10-year–old Priscilla must have had to withstand every imaginable obstacle and return home after 249 years.

Meeting Sierra Leone’s president

The Polites sat close together on a stiff, overstuffed couch; Antawn’s large frame seemed uncomfortable in his suit jacket and tie while Thomalind, looking even more petite when next to her husband, sat quietly in a black suit dress accented by a giant pearl necklace and bracelet. She absentmindedly occupied her restless hands by patting down her already perfectly set hair. It was obvious that she, too, was nervous. Or perhaps it was some kind of anxious expectancy, an emotion similar to that Priscilla must have felt when she finally reached her new home in the ‘Land Across the Big Water’ –– an experience completely new in every sense of the word.
But on this day the Polites were not starting an entire new life in a land unknown to them, they were waiting to meet the president of Sierra Leone. President Kabbah must have sensed their nervousness because as soon as he spoke he put everyone at ease with his laughter, wit and charm. The Polites were presented gifts of traditional clothing, jewelry and handicrafts and thanks from the amazing country that welcomed them. They immediately eased back into their seats and the atmosphere returned to what it had been all week –– that of comfort and family.

Bunce Island

Abandoned slave castleAbandoned slave castle

To a small crowd of American and African journalists, the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, and a few Sierra Leoneans from the neighboring islands, Opala described the slave castle as it would have looked in its prime operational years –– gravel walkways; 40–foot high fortress walls; iron cannons wth the crest of the king of England; offices, workshops, and storeroom providing space for the guns, cotton cloth and rum offered in exchange for slaves; and strong rooms to keep the gold and ivory bought from the Africans.
This place was indeed a “bizarre, inhumane juxtaposition of a rich man’s estate, prison and fortress” said Opala. Although a small space physically, it housed a huge Georgian–style two–story home, complete with a fireplace that was never used because of the region’s tropical heat and an upper level veranda where the commander of the castle could entertain guests. Directly behind the house were the slave yards. The prison’s enclosed spaces were divided –– men were in the wider, larger yard, and women and children were in the smaller, cramped one.
The African sun beat down, and the high prison walls and the towering “factory house” cut off the river’s breeze. The suffocating heat made the space feel smaller than it already was. “Overcrowded” could not justifiably describe these yards where crowds of people suffered.
Walking around the small fortress, one felt a depressing weight at the thought of such a misuse of land and resources. Awe for the obvious human ingenuity in creating such a magnificent physical space gave way to massive disappointment and rage for its purpose.
Polite was overwhelmed; her face reflected pain, sorrow and horror as the tortures the captive Africans would endure were described. She said that standing on Bunce Island was “the most incredible moment” of the entire trip. Despite the sadness and the history, or maybe because of them, she felt nearer to her great, great, great, great, great–grandmother than at any other time during the homecoming. “Just knowing that Priscilla was there 249 years ago, and there I was standing on the same ground made the cycle complete.”

Welcome home

Traveling with Priscilla’s Posse, indeed being in Africa itself, was one of the most privileged experiences I’ve ever had. It was more than a historical trip back to slavery times, and it was more than time spent honoring a determined survivor of the era. Priscilla’s Homecoming was the kind of welcome home many black Americans can only dream about. It embraced not only Thomalind Polite but also everyone else setting foot on the country’s white beaches and invited them to stay awhile so that they might hear the story of the many children whom Sierra Leone, “Mama Salone,” lost and those who have returned.
About the Author

Jeanine “Nina” Talley, daughter of JMU professor Cheryl Talley, worked with the JMU Honors Program and Furious Flower Poetry Center. She now lives in San Francisco, where she is a research and administrative assistant at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, Oakland Branch, located in downtown Oakland, Ca.

<a target=”_blank” href=”;tag=bib-05-20&amp;link_code=btl&amp;camp=213689&amp;creative=392969″>In Sierra Leone</a><img src=”;l=btl&amp;camp=213689&amp;creative=392969&amp;o=1&amp;a=B003DKKO8W&#8221; alt=”” style=”border: medium none ! important; margin: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important;” border=”0″ width=”1″ height=”1″><a target=”_blank” href=”;tag=bib-05-20&amp;link_code=btl&amp;camp=213689&amp;creative=392969″>In Sierra Leone</a><img src=”;l=btl&amp;camp=213689&amp;creative=392969&amp;o=1&amp;a=B003DKKO8W&#8221; alt=”” style=”border: medium none ! important; margin: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important;” border=”0″ width=”1″ height=”1″><br>

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