Accused in Emmett Till case goes free

By Daisy Hernandez Feb 28, 2007

A Mississippi jury has decided to not indict the white woman who basically set in motion the 1955 murder of the teenage Emmett Till, a murder that galvanized the world against the Jim Crow South. That this white woman is getting away makes me wonder just how much has changed in 50 years. Carolyn Bryant was the woman whom Emmett supposedly whistled at on a summer day. She pointed the boy out to her husband, Roy Bryant, who along with his half brother, J.W. Milam, brutally murdered the young Emmett. The two men, who are now dead, were acquitted by an all-white jury, but they later confessed to a journalist. Bryant is now 73 and free to walk in the world as if she had not been the spark that started that grisly murder. While my friends talk about political forgiveness and reconciliation, I have to admit that I think Bryant should have been locked up. Emmitt Till’s cousin, Simeon Wright, summed it up best: ”You’re looking at Mississippi. I guess it’s about the same way it was 50 years ago. The grand jury looked in the mirror, and they blinked. They didn’t like what they was looking at, apparently.” If you missed the airing of the film The Murder of Emmitt Till, it’s a good time to check it out. What made me almost as angry as the indictment is the Associated Press quoting racists like Horace Harned, who worked for the Sovereignty Commission, a state agency that tried to keep segregation alive. Harned says he doesn’t believe in murder and follows up by saying that murder is “the wrong thing. It always backfires on you.” Wait. Did I miss something? So, if the murder of Black boys didn’t backfire, it would be ok? Harned then says, ”You can’t correct all the ills of the past. If we did, the Southerners were treated much worse than anybody back in the Civil War.” No comment. I’m left wondering if it even matters that the FBI decided this week to reopen a dozen unsolved cases that are civil rights-related. They’re going to be looking at cases in 14 states in the South but there’s no specifics on which ones. It seems the FBI decided to take up the cause since independent investigators and folks like the Southern Poverty Law Center have been making headway. The small bit of feel good this week has been that the FBI finally charged James Ford Seale for the 1964 murders of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. Now, of course, we have to wait for the verdict in that case.