tv 1955 Emmett Till Murder Case CSPAN January 1, 2017 10:29pm-12:02am EST
two white suspects were acquitted by an all-white jury. next, the author sits down with the kansas city public library executive director to talk about his book. this is about 90 minutes. name is alvin sykes and i am to represent the kansas city library system. [applause] you are in for an exciting treat. i'm going toowing, read the introduction so we stay on point.
who is here tonight who came from salt lake, utah, his name is devery anderson. he is the author of the book, "emmett till: the murder that shock the world and propelled the civil rights movement." it is one of the most definitive books on the subject. it took him 21 years from conception to completion to write this book. and i had the privilege to work on this case, emmett till's case, starting in 2002 with emmett till's mother, to work toward the reopening of the case to be reinvestigated and to have the united states congress to pass the emmett till unsolved civil rights crime act. that is now in the works being we authorized again. congress is working on it right now. we expect in the next several weeks for that to pass. [applause] anderson is an editor at
signature books in salt lake, utah, and is currently working on a masters degree in publishing at the george washington university. he is the editor and co-editor of several books on mormon history. and in 2015, the university press of mississippi published his book. it will be the basis of an hbo miniseries produced by jay-z, will smith, kcl, and air kaplan -- airing kaplan. he has spoken in the united states and the united kingdom. his research has resulted in over a dozen trips to mississippi and chicago, where he interviewed key players and conducted extensive archival research. he is currently researching a book on the mississippi freedom summer.
he lives in salt lake city and is the father of three children. to introduce the other , his name is crosby iii, and he has 25,000 books in his library. thank you. [applause] >> good evening to everybody. thank you so much. we will talk about alvin later because he is an important subject of the conversation. i want to start out by asking what may be an obvious question as alvin talked about your background. you are a mormon historian and documentarian. the emmett till case does not seem to be in that wheelhouse, exactly.
what led you to be interested in the emmett till case? >> first of all, thank you very much for having me here. i admire alvin and it is great to be here with this group tonight. i have just moved to salt lake city in 1994. i was a student at the university of utah. i moved there to go to school. around the time the semester started, i was new, i got my library card from the city library and went over there one day and looked at videos not , dvds. we don't really have those much anymore. this was back in the old day. pbs onhis series from the shelf called "eyes on the
prize, the history of the civil rights movement." i checked out the first couple of tapes. the first segment was about the emmett till case. i had never heard of it. this was september of 1994. it just grabbed me immediately, like nothing ever had in my life. within a couple of weeks or months, people were sick of me asking if they had ever heard of emmett till and new anything about it. i was determined to read anything i could find to learn more about it, outside of the video. there was not much. this was 1994. there was a book that i found and i read it. i learned about another one that had come out about the same time. i read these two books and wanted to read more. there was not much. it consumed me right away and did not let me go.
one thing led to another. i came to know emmett till's mother. i never met her in person. i started interviewing her for a class project two years after i discovered the case. we became friends and the case went from history to a very personal connection when i started talking with her regularly. we became good friends. iobably one of the people admire more than anyone else in maybe tillis mainl mobley. died, i had known of the case for 10 years. i had been studying it. when she died, i realized there was something in me that had to come out. it was time to write a book. i was happy with some of the books.
some of them only attempted to do so much good they did what they attempted well but nobody attempted to write a fully comprehensive book. interesting because the case was reopened in 2004. fast-forward all these years later and the federal government is involved, all of these things are happening. i just decided i'm writing a book about history and i don't know how it is going to end. >> almost everybody, probably everybody in the audience, knows something about emmett till. he was a young boy in mississippi. tell the basic story for us. what is the basic emmett till story? give us the outline of what
mississippipened in in 1955 to emmett till. >> emmett till was an african american youth from chicago who had family in mississippi. >> 14 years old. >> just completed eighth grade. with a cousin who was 16 years old, they went to mississippi for the last two weeks of the summer before school was going to start again to spend time with a relative. they got there during cotton picking time. they were picking cotton with the family throughout the week. four days after his arrival, emmett and his cousins after being in the field, they went to money. the family lived in east money. ,hey went into downtown money
really just a street with a couple of stores. one of them was the bryants grocery and meat market. there were seven or eight neighbors and emmett till went over there. emmett till went into the store to buy some bubblegum. after he left the store, according to witnesses, his cousins and others that were there, carolyn bryant, the wife of the storekeeper was working behind the counter that night. she was 21 years old. beauty pageants and was known as a local beauty. outside, emmett whistled at her. shocked theer and people he was with. she went towards her car. they said she was going to get a
gun and they left. this was on a wednesday night and, on saturday night, going into sunday morning at 2:00, some men pounded at the door and he opened the door. these men stood there with a flashlight and a gun. another man was on the porch. the two men in the front barged in at gunpoint and went room to room until they found the boy they were looking for. they did not know his name but they knew who he was. they were able to figure it out. are went to him and said you the one who did the smart talk the other night? he said, "yeah." they were upset he said that instead of "yes, sir" back then. someone identified him. moses wright said he heard a woman's voice that said yes this is the right boy. they put him in the car and they
drove off. they kidnapped him at gunpoint and, the following wednesday -- >> they all pretty much admitted that they had taken him. >> right. between the time of the kidnapping and when the body was found, it was just seen as a kidnapping. each admitted that they took him but they said they let him go because he was not the right they were arrested on one. kidnapping charges on sunday and monday. on wednesday, a fisherman was in his boat in the tallahatchie river and he looked in the distance and saw a pair of knees protruding. of course, he went and made a call. county --om leflore
the share from leflore county and tallahatchie county came out. mose wright identified him as his nephew. now we had a murder case. according to witnesses, these men kidnapped emmett till and here he is murdered over a wolf whistle. that became the news of the day, a boy from chicago was killed over a wolf whistle. >> this was 1955. brown versus board of education happened the year before. the civil rights movement was and going on some ways before. high point limits are hitting. that is the background. they just had an election in
mississippi where there were five candidates and they were all segregationists. they all try to out segregationist each other. there was the background and it story mostational immediately. he is from chicago. parts of his family are in chicago. the mayor, congressman, everybody in chicago is upset it becomes sort of a north versus south thing almost immediately. >> the governor of illinois wrote the governor of mississippi that they were going to take action. at the time, mississippi was resentful of outside influence. as the rest of the nation came down on mississippi, that put them in a position where they became more defensive. by the time of the trial, the
division between north and south -- >> isn't just in the book if it had just been a murder trial, it might have gone a different direction. as soon as it became a national becamesoutherners sectional rather than about justice. is that fair? >> it could have. early on the editorials made their way to the press and public opinion was very much in sympathy of emmett till early on for a few days. when mississippi was attacked by others and felt others were to dealo tell them how they d with what they saw as a local situation, that changed. it is not just something that historians have looked back and look at the evidence. this was recognized at the time. newspaper editors were saying, in the last few days, everything
had shifted in defense of the men in the south because of that reason. the south was now under attack. began,oon as the trial news media attention was enormous with all of the major news outlets. tv, etc. >> the trial began a few weeks after the murder. emmett till's body was discovered on august 31. the men went on trial on september 19. it was not even three weeks later. and suddenly, the world was watching the trial. >> it is very different from the path of justice today. the trial happens pretty immediately. the naacp takes this on and as a major thing. roy wilkins becomes a major player in this. the trial becomes about that, to
some extent. about the naacp itself. >> right. one thing i need to point out is between whennterim the body was discovered in the trial, there was the funeral. the body was badly beaten. between the beating and being in the river for three days, the body was pretty much beyond recognition. and it was a horrifying sight. his mother was able to identify him because she looked him over closely. her argument was that a mother knows her son. i think that is definitely true. when she saw the body, she said there is no way i can explain what i am seeing. the world needs to see what i am seeing. she insisted on the open casket funeral. tens and tens of thousands of overe filed past the body five days as she left him on display in chicago. not only that, people saw that
firsthand and reacted emotionally. if you see the film footage, people were fainting and becoming emotional at seeing the boy brutally murdered. the press also -- david jackson, a photographer, and simeon , they went to the funeral tookand david jackson photos and these were published in "jet" magazine and other papers. now everybody was seeing this. that created so much publicity. that is why so many reporters descended upon sumner, mississippi, for this trial. >> famous reporters. you had dan wakefield from the
nation, a young reporter for the west point daily news. >> yes. they were all there. whitfield is still living. they sent him a review copy of the book. he is hopefully reading this. i interviewed him and several of the reporters who are still alive and covered the trial all of these years ago. >> there is a big question about whether mobley will come down for the trial and congressman diggs, an african-american congressman, weighs in. it becomes a huge national event, this trial. >> yes, it was. international press covered it. it was in 11 papers. france and several others weighed in. guys, they have
essentially admitted they kidnapped him. they are put on trial. how did the trial come out and how could it have possibly come out that they were found not guilty? >> they were charged with kidnapping and murder. the murder trial happened in 1955. they were considering murder. argument was that too decomposed and badly beaten to identify. here is the interesting thing. when the body was discovered on august 31, there were a few sheriffs involved. , when he saw the body the morning it was found, said it looked like the body of a black person.
they released the body to a black undertaker segregation, , even in death. he said the body looked like it had been in the river for two days and he used a pencil to go into the skull to see how deep the hole was. it looked like he had either died from a bullet or an axe. by the time of the trial, the sheriff changed his mind, by the time of the trial, at the burial. suddenly, he said he did not know if it was the body of a black or white person. he said when it came out of the river the body was as white as , he was. he said that he only knew it was a human being and i don't know that it is emmett till. he might still be alive and that this was a hoax. >> a hoax perpetrated by the naacp. >> here is where they come into
the story. mississippi was being fed these lines. they didn't like the naacp and this just cemented their hate for the naacp. sheriff strider comes up with a story on tuesday, the day emmett till was buried. later he said it trial that i investigated other missing person cases around here and the body must be one of them because i don't think it is emmett till. he did not want to exhume the body and bring it back to the south. waswould they know who this when the body was not emmett till? it was such a scam, on his part. i don't think anybody really believed. >> you say that in the book that nobody actually believed that. >> the jurors did not, but it gave them a reason. it gave them a reason to vote as they did.
the trial lasted for five days. the testimony was for two and a half days. they had to select the jury. >> it was an all-white jury. >> by law, no women could serve on a mississippi jury. you had to be a registered voter. blackwas not one registered voter in tallahatchie county. it was a jury of 12 white men. the jury pool was 120 men and it came down to these 12. testimony started on wednesday the trial began on monday. testimony begins on wednesday. the prosecution took a day in a half to present their witnesses, mose wright being the star witness, the first witness, and testified that these men came into the house and kidnapped emmett till. he pointed them out in court. emmett till's mother testified. they identified him because of a ring on his finger that have them -- had been passed down to
him from his father, who was dead. and that was known to wear this ring. his cousin saw him wearing the ring. when the body was retrieved the , ring with the initials of his father was on his fingers. that is how they identified him. the defense argued that they put the ring on another body and put the body in the river. this was the defense argument. they only made it in closing arguments. they didn't present this during the trial. they only presented it in closing arguments, a terrible thing to suddenly do, without allowing any sort of cross examination. sheriff did testify that he didn't think the body was emmett but nobody testified they put another body in as a hoax. >> pretty remarkable to find somebody with the same ring size
as emmett till, a body, that quickly. >> it gave the jury something to cling to. on the fifth day of the trial, the jury deliberated for about an hour and came back with a for them that verdict the mesh came -- came back with a verdict of not guilty and the men were set free. during the testimony, the sheriff testified that the men admitted to kidnapping him and the defense argued did you read , them their rights? were you talking to them as a friend or sheriff? i guess i am ad friend. it didn't matter that he had this confession of kidnapping. it was how he got it. were you talking as a sheriff or a friend? if you are a friend, it is ok to admit to kidnapping. it was really bizarre. so, the kidnapping part seemed opened and shut. the murder part they argued was
circumstantial because they didn't see the men with the body and no one saw him get killed. >> they did not exhume the body, so there was no forensic evidence around that which seems fairly deliberate on their part. a little over an hour and they come back with the verdict. the kidnapping trial happens later. >> that was in november. >> how do they justify that? >> it is interesting. everybody was shocked they were indicted on murder charges. in mississippi at the time, on race crimes, nobody was prosecuted and did not go to trial. rarely indicted. these men were indicted so there was little hope. they were acquitted there and then went back to jail. they got out on bail a week later. in november of 1955, a couple of months after the murder trial,
the grand jury in leflore county met to discuss the kidnapping charges. this time after meeting, the grand jury decided not to indict them. here is where they had the confession. to the grand jury the sheriff's menputy testified these admitted to kidnapping emmett till. mose wright testified in front of the grand jury" another witness, and the grand jury didn't even indict them on what should have been open and shut. there was nothing circumstantial about that case. when they were released, the men were never again connected to this in any official way. there was no further attempt to prosecute. >> it would seem to be the end of the story, but it is 1955 and is not the end of the story.
you tell an interesting story about dr. howard. he goes to give a speech in montgomery. and he is a civil rights leader in mississippi who has been connected to the case. he is there with a very young preacher in montgomery named martin luther king. in the audience that day, 69 days after the verdict, is a woman named rosa parks. connect that for us. the story does not end at this point. it begins to have resonance nationally and be an inspiration. >> to set the context for that, as soon as the jury acquitted these men on september 23, this outrage throughout the country
and overseas began. there were protest rallies going on all over the place. the naacp sponsored several. several were sponsored by local labor unions. throughout the country and even in paris, josephine baker sponsored a rally. the vatican responded in their official newspaper and we have this outrage. dr. howard, the most militant civil rights leader in mississippi at the time, very hated by the white south. he was a doctor and wealthy. he was black and an activist. that the not go over well with the white community at the time. he was going around the country and speaking about the atrocities of the emmett till case. november 20 7, 1955, he speaks sunday at dexter avenue baptist
church where martin luther king has been a minister for like a year. these rallies were going on all over. martin luther king is there. he gives a prayer and the benediction. rosa parks is in the crowd. laterlked about years that she remembered the impact of dr. howard's speech. four days later, she refused to give up her seat on the bus. that began the montgomery bus boycott. at emmett till's mother's funeral, she had a statement amie talking about how m mobley's courage helped her and others act.
we have the direct quote of her talking retrospectively about how the case moved her. she did not say anything about it at the time. these are retrospective statements. she couldn't have helped but been moved by the atmosphere and moved four days after dr. howard's speech. that is an interesting connection to make. it is hard not to make the connection. there was a lot in place with the brown decision that energized people. there was an immediate backlash inses this war to escalate so many ways. that is why someone like emmett till could have been lynched at the time. right after the election, tensions are high. you have someone like emmett till come along and there is a sudden connection between a black man and a white woman. as innocent as this flirtation
the divisions could not have been any greater. the timing of when he came could not have been worse. there had the first ones reported in three years. it was all because of the brown decision. things were in place to create the emmett till situation, which creates the outrage and the action that we saw. you can really connect the dots there. >> there is a national reaction to this and we will find out whether we will survive --
perhaps it's too proved to us whether or not we deserve to survive. that is pretty extraordinary and you mentioned as for pound, part of his cantos are about emmett till and james baldwin wrote blues for charlie partly based on emmett till. so there is all this national attention. the naacp makes it a cause and raises money around it. apart over controversy over money and she goes to be a schoolteacher and gets a degree in education. she goes to be a schoolteacher. there is a magazine story by a journalist and it slowly leaves the consciousness of the country
and other things happen. all of a sudden, the 1980's and the 1990's, it becomes a thing again, with the eyes on the prize and film-makers making documentaries. why does it go away and come back? >> i have wondered about that a lot. after the protest died out, there was an article that came out in 1956, with the montgomery bus boycott going on for a little over a month. a story breaks where a reporter says he has the full story behind what happened with emmett
till. you read the story with these firsthand quotes and everybody is wondering if the men confessed to this or if they told their story or made up a story for money. he has these quotes, but will not say that he talked to the men. he leaves it for everybody to read and see. i talk about this in the book. he went through an elaborate thing to get these men to talk to him. they do and he pays them. the article comes out. as we know, muckrakers, this shouldn't be seen as a confession, for several reasons. we know that he talked to these
men, but they were protecting other people who were involved in the case and they claimed to have done everything and had no help. the story was not factual and it wasn't based on anything factual. whether it is the story that was told to him or if huey made things up, we don't know. the story gave people a reason to say that these men admitted to killing emmett till. the people who were defending the men were fine with defending the men, as long as they didn't hear anything. they knew, but they did not want to hear. as bad as it was, they had something to point to and nobody wanted to talk about this again.
they tracked down roy bryant and he interviews roy bryant and chases him out of the store. >> also, there is this moment where cold cases and movies are about this, with bobby frank and bobby frank cherry, who was involved in killing the little girls in the church. all of a sudden, they are tried and they rise up. but is that happen?
-- why does that happen? >> there is a new interest in looking at the case and wanting more answers. in 1989, the mentor evers case reopens and it was a hung jury the last time. they gave up on the third time. he was not acquitted. he could be tried again. more evidence comes out that the commission had been working and doing jury tampering. this ignited a spark and he was retried in 1994 and convicted. after it reopened, she was not
and it really changed and gave people hope. it started a whole slew of -- >> here, your career interest in this and your conversations with mobley parallel. you got to know that part of the case and it turns out that steve harvey's wife is related to emmett till and he starts to have a relationship. all of a sudden, there is a notion that the emmett till case can be revived. >> alvin approached this with passion and hope and you see the steve harvey and emmett till case parallel each other to a point. there is a brutal murder, a trial, and acquittal. the emmett till case, in the 1950's, part of the message from
the protest rallies was, we want to try this on a federal level and can the government do something? j edgar hoover said the civil rights statutes is not that strong and that they did not go across state lines. they had reasons to not pursue it and that is where you see the fork in the road, where alvan pursued the federal part. the rest is history. so, they paralleled each other. in the end, the tragedy is that somebody was truly an senselessly killed. that tragedy lasts. you see the difference between emmett till and the steve harvey case. justice change things -- changes things. it helps. >> there are a number of people and a federalization, if you will, of these cold cases.
the fbi had declined and they had good reasons. not good reasons, but reasons. in part because a valve in, who pointed to the opinion written as the assistant attorney general by antonin scalia, the federal government has a legitimate interest in some of these cases, leading to the ability of the federal government to go after the cold cases. it leads to the buried body of emmett till becoming a subject again, and a controversial one, not just for the people of mississippi, but for the civil
rights community. >> even the emmett till family was divided. there are others who said it needs to happen. >> jesse jackson's son did not want it. ultimately, the body was exhumed and the identity question was put to rest. >> this was important. if it had gone to trial, you could argue that we don't even know if it was emmett till. as painful as it was to disturb the remains, to be able to use current technology to advance and do testing to prove
definitively that the body was emmett till and discover other broken bones in his wrist had his legs and that the beating was more severe. we learned more about what he went through. >> and the bullets and the kind of gun. real forensic evidence. there was no question. >> he died of a bullet wound. so the sheriff was wrong on everything. that was important to learn. the investigation, although it did not result in a trial, they did say there was a possible manslaughter charge.
the grand jury did not indict, but so much came out and it -- we learned the murder trial transcript had been missing for decades, really the whole time. they found a copy of that and they found the murder weapon and we knew it was emmett till and nobody could make the argument again. it was definitely worth it and i hope that the people who didn't want to put money into this learned that the truth set us free of little bit more. >> that seems to be the power of your book. ultimately, the ultimate justice is the truth. you cannot bring emmett till back.
they told the jury to look at the evidence and the interviews done and it was a black and white, mixed jury. they unanimously agreed that they could not indict or convict bryant or anyone else. we quote alvan on this and they almost superhuman sense of truth and justice. if the evidence is there, will go forward with it, an african-american woman, joyce giles, described as admirable. it wasn't just to appease political considerations of people who wish her to do so. however, there is a sense that the justice is not in the
conviction. the justice is in the truth. >> yes. i received emails and phone calls from people who are angry that bryant is not in prison right now. >> she is still alive. >> angry. i believe that anybody involved in this, the age and circumstances should not allow them to get off on murder. you should not get rewarded, if you defeat the system for years and years. you don't get to die free. at the same time, to feel like somebody has to pay and some it has to be the symbol that pays for all these other two got away, that isn't right. if the evidence was there, by
all means, but it is not there and you can't just go out and do it. alvin had a good head on his shoulders about all this. he was out for justice and he was willing to accept the outcome and that was a great outcome for everybody who viewed it in that way. that is the meaning of justice. if we just go after people to make them pay a price, we're kind of like the people who randomly kill somebody and we can just randomly put somebody in jail as a symbol. >> you quote emmett till as some of this comes forward again and she says that she doesn't want to deal with this out of hate. she wants to deal with it out of love and before we finish, i want to ask you about the movie
and that you are making a movie with will smith and jay-z and i want to start out by asking who is playing alvan in the movie. i'm thinking about denzel washington. how did the movie come back. you have been involved in this. >> there were options from the serendipity film group and, right away, they were able to work with casey affleck and he worked to film his own production company and became immediately interested in this. after the affleck milton group signed on to make a theatrical film of this, jay-z and will
smith decided they would do this miniseries for hbo and it was an independent project from ours. several months into this, after casey affleck signed on, jay-z's people and hbo approached our people and said, how would you like to work together on this. so, there were several months of negotiations to put the groups together and that was finalized. so now, everybody is working together and doing the hbo miniseries. they wanted six episodes and they hired a writer who had received a lot of praise at the sundance film festival for his film and it is set in cleveland and it is playing in theaters on a limited basis.
there is a lot of acclaim for his film. hbo approached him and others. he got the contract. steve is now writing the script and will be working on it. as far as the cast, it is still early. i guess i could put in a good word for denzel washington. >> i don't know. the nice thing about doing this is that you have the theatrical film and you can go into depth and highlight and will stories in full and i look so forward to seeing what he comes up with an hbo is excited and they are committed. everybody is committed to doing
this right. >> they will tell the story of the case, as it developed over the years and it will all be part of that. >> i don't want to put words in the mouth of the writers. i suppose that would be irresponsible of me. i think that there is a lot to work with and it would make sense of all of that is covered. >> i think your story is extraordinary. tom coburn said that alvin is what america is all about and i think that we bow a debt of gratitude to work on the truth of this band it is the truth that the country does not live up to the truth of justice. you are guiding the conscience. and i want to turn this over for questions and tell everyone that
>> i will translate that. send checks. >> who want to open this up to you, the audience. we have this microphone up front, if you would like to come up front. >> i just want to know how that changed your life. >> that is a good one and it became so personal and, hopefully, had she had done that, she would have been similar to mylan. she went on to become a
schoolteacher and the emmett till players and she turned a negative to a positive and you live with that pain forever, but you can turn it into a positive, to some degree. she was determined her son not die in vain. that is true. the emmett till case is emerged in the press all the time. we have that connection now with the past and that was the
i have seen that in mississippi. pockets of mississippi have set examples for the rest of us. i have learned things that surprised me. this tells me where we can go, if we are determined. >> another question here. >> i wanted to expand on something here. i was always surprised that a case that was so make and sensational could be in the public mind and psyche and go away. i grew up and this just went away. i remember when i found out
about emmett till and i thought, why didn't i arty know about this? -- already know about this? the spanish flu epidemic, for example, you can understand how big that was, and then for some reason, everybody stopped talking about this for the longest time and, if you ask somebody that you know now, i have always been surprised that this has not been bigger and why that wasn't just something reallyegative, and the way that something so spectacularly horrible and well-known -- i saw those pictures of emmett
till and his body. how does this go away? to not get it. you have any speculation? >> there is a collective guilt that people deal with. it went away because of that and other events in the civil rights movement with all the news shifting and it happened. the news shifted to the activists instead of the unintended martyrs. elsewhere, i would interview the cousins of emmett till and i asked them about the south and the parkers already there. he said, after the trial, we
never brought it up again. not to each other or mamie. i said, you literally did not bring it up. they said, never. they were sought out for the first time in 30 years. people didn't talk about it, though. different reasons. there was pain. collective guilt of the south. the nation had moved on and the people involved, emmett till's mother, she did not stay on the national stage. the schoolteacher who was known locally, she would speak at
church. moses became a janitor at a club, after speaking for the naacp. he has just been a janitor for the rest of his life. in obscurity. nobody tried to stay an activist or public. those involved went back into the background and it shaped stories. early on, the only people who were talking about it was artists. bob dylan had his famous song and there was blues for mr. charlie. there was an episode of "the twilight zone" that rod serling tried to pitch, they had to tone it down.
the artistic community could not let it go. there had not been enough time to affected properly. the news had shifted elsewhere. >> it was talked about. i run a point years ago about what my mother told me. those trips that we took down south, i was of age and a time, and i was going to get on a bus the time this happened. i started riding the bus by myself, and the trains to arkansas. my mother would put a label that said --
when i got to missouri, i would finish much into to arkansas. my experience in the black community changed the fabric within the young men on how they act, what they looked at. [applause] >> we felt everything for years and years. that is why i went away, because i still took that trip at eight years old, nine years old, 10, all the way until i was 14 by myself. we dare not talk about it, look her in the face, we dare not stutter or whisper. that was one of the other things with emmett till. he had a stutter, and it wasn't a whistle, but a stutter.
but yes, those trips were to keep us straight. go home to visit grandma, you go down there and do real work. that is what emmett went to do, he went to spend his little money at a little grocery store, and ended up dead because of society. it was talked about, it is still talked about, and is going to be talked about forever and ever, amen. [applause] >> can i clarify something really quick? i am talking about historic and -- historians going into the news publicly, because i have had a lot of people telling me the same things. people had relatives in the south. people in chicago had relatives
in the south, and they would come down all the time until this happened. someone told me that her mother would not let her go about -- back to the south after this, because what could happen to emmett could happen to you. people i interviewed 50 years afterwards told me i would never forget that, and it scared us to death. it's changed us and we were never the same after that. to that level, it is still talked about. but a knot of -- a lot of people never learned about it, because there was nothing public. i don't know how that is even possible, but partly because people or to wear. >> he said most of what i was
going to say about different communities, but my other question to you is the question about maybe tills -- maimie tills hesitation to have her son's body exhumed. does she talk about that in the process she went through to get the body back? >> she probably -- she told me once that she wanted to move his grave from the cemetery to another place. she was willing to have him exhumed for that reason. she wanted to look at him, if they ever exhumed his body, because she wanted to see him
again. but that was before they were going to exhumed him for an autopsy. >> she was alive when they started those conversations about that, though. >> and i imagine she had thought about that. but it was other family members who, after the exhumation was announced, that family members were adamant that he wouldn't be exhumed. this is after the investigation was started. >> because that was very often overlooked. >> and back then, even, there was rumored -- rumors that the body would be exhumed, and maimie said no. some of it was just rumors, but she saw and heard the rumors that they were about to exhumed his body.
in her mind, it was him, i don't need any proof, so let it rest in peace. for her sake, she didn't need it at all. >> thank you for going back and talking about how horrific the crimes to emmett were. he wasn't just thrown in a river. >> there was a lot of suffering, incredibly brutal, beyond anything i could imagine. >> from an education standpoint, do you see looking back at this today, 30 years before was brought to consciousness, difference in how it is handled educationally in the south in terms of how it is interest in a curriculum in schools? >> i have heard from people in their early 30's who say it was never discussed when they were
growing up. i don't know if it has changed since then, like what is happening in schools today. in tallahassee county, there is a lot that reminds people of the till murder on a daily basis. there is a marker in front of the courthouse that talks about the trial, so people are forced to deal with that every day. highway 49, between greenwood and charleston -- no, clarkdale, has now been named emmett till memorial highway. people know about it now. the fear before was that a lot of people didn't know about it, so why bring it up? they don't have that to deal with it -- with anymore. i hope and can only assume it was much better than it was, but i can not answer that for sure,
unfortunately. >> i would like to say that emmett tell -- till was just one of the murders that was made famous, that was the one in 55. i have been around in the black neighborhood where you can hear people talk about situations back in the days, and white america, they think not a lot of people talk about it because the same ones that got the job to protect the lacks -- blacks in those days were the ones involved. that is part of the reason you don't hear much conversation. i know emmett till's family is probably the same way. you have people who going to come out and do the same thing to them.
one thing, young folks can't understand why this is going on. police officers, judges, doctors, lawyers, were the same ones running around in the white sheets back in those days. don't have any connection with that. i am 61, and if you go to family reunions and black neighborhoods, if you're older folks saying they have been ran out of louisiana, mississippi, arkansas, because that's the way it was. i am old enough to know that. now you have to know we have a better voice for black america. you're probably going to run into a lot of emmett till folks who are not going to talk,
because white folks and laborers are going to come back for nation. >> -- retaliation. >> that is their experience, and that's unfortunate that it has to be the case. >> i am 71 years old, and i was born in tennessee. i was 10 years old when emmett till was killed. we were killed -- told, shaking and trembling by our teachers and ministers, be very careful. if you have not learned by now, keep your head down. we were reeducated once emmett till was killed to be more careful. five years later, a neighborhood kid, 16 euros old -- years old, was shot eight times in front of
a white neighborhood. nobody was punished. a young lady, martha lang, 15 years old, was punctured every way you could puncture a person, and left with a stocking around her neck. 15 years old. these are my neighborhood kids, lived in the neighborhood with me. we were being taught, over and over again, there is no justice. everybody knows who killed charles porter. he was shot right front of the house, claimed he shouldn't have been there. martha lang was shot coming home from the white women's homes. my cousin and i left early, she left later. she got caught. it was curfew, 9:00. even though she was killed --
careful, those boys got her. is careful, those boys got her. all eight boys who did this to her, and no one ever went to jail for it. that is the way the south was teaching us to keep our head down and be quiet. >> thank you. [applause] >> the emmett till tragedy, as it plays out in 2016, is a lesson we have not learned. we still have a symbolic blackmail being murdered, -- black male being murdered, and nobody cares. black lives are not mattering. i can walk out of this building tonight on my way home. when the lights come on behind
me, i have to know if i'm going to fight or flight, be strapped or ready to die. emmett till, my life and society. this is 2016, and after the elections last week. where are the people of current? -- courage? the people of god who should be standing up to the ugly? that is an ugly tragedy. mamie, by the time she talked to my brother, how many years have passed? passed? early human beings? -- are we human beings? our current -- curry inch -- courage must stand up to evil.
these the same times of -- types of evil spirits. the same kind when you would talk negative, and can't lift each other up as a human being. we're going back to an ugly incident like emmett till happening on a late-night. i was just wondering, 68. can i die and have some justice? or must i worry about my son, just because he is black? running into injustices -- we have a social contract. when will that contract protects all people, and not let ugly,
mean-spirited feelings take control. it keeps coming back, it will go away. -- won't go away, because it is not stay tragedy that happened -- not just a tragedy that happened, but us that are not responding as we see it happening again and again. thank you. [applause] >> thank you so much for setting light on such an important topic in humanity. we all need to stand up and get up and fight every single day, but my question to you is while you are writing the book, did you have people in the south in
mind, did you have a narrative in mind? >> i was trying to stay objective to really achieve that. i just wanted to get the facts as i find them. part of the reason this book took so long as i was trying to tell the whole story and get it right. there are so many myths about it, and what did or didn't happen at the store and the whistle, and i wanted to go back as early as i could and the people said early on. my main thing was to tell the facts. i knew some people would be upset with what i said.
people who are sympathetic to emmett till might be upset about certain things. it was hard to talk about, but couldn't be ignored. i wanted to get the facts out there, knowing people in the south and north would like it and feel like it was time, and the people in those same places might be upset or uncomfortable with certain things. i tried to interview everybody, people on the sides of the killers families as well. i was able to get a few, and they would let me put their name in the book. i was able to quote them and talk about what they told me, their family members, and i know that would make people uncomfortable as well.
or if i tried to show a human side to carolyn bryant, that was going to upset people as well. you have to make everybody happy, and when you have done that, you have done your job. when everyone is upset and a little bit happy, you have done your job. >> i would like to reiterate one of the things the lady said. she said she went to school in tennessee, but one of the things do younger people think about is -- you younger people don't think about is she went to a black school, because we couldn't go to school with you. black history spans between a week and as long as the teachers want to tell us about the situations we will face. i'm 77. i was in the eighth or ninth grade. i have lived with that all my life. nina's alone has some music that says i wish i do how it would
feel to be free, and i think that is the wish of every black person in this room tonight. [applause] >> first of all, i want to thank you for bringing this story back to mine. it is one of the things my folks first told me that taught me how to behave. i have to ask you, is there something you wish you had put in the book that is not in their -- there that we're going to see for the first time in the movie? because i don't want to be surprised -- [laughter] >> something i didn't put in the book that is going to be in the movie?
>> you know there is something. [laughter] >> i can't really think of anything. just thinking about it, i don't know. i am trying to think of something i left out or wish i had put in that wall have to be in there, and i probably thought of things like that, but i honestly can't think right off hand -- if anything, i tried to develop emmett's relationship with his mother in that first chapter. the beer is more to be said there -- maybe there is more to
be said there, because i want to see that when he went to mississippi the case did not begin with the incident at the store. he has 14 years of being a mother's son who is beloved by her, and a human being who had dreams and hopes and all of that. that gets overlooked too much. everyone tells the story of the wolf whistle and the murder. emmett is known in death, but not in life. to really emphasize that his life mattered, we have to understand his life. even though he was an insecure person -- of secure -- obscure person, she would not be known today he hadn't -- he would not be known today if he hadn't died, that doesn't matter. black lives matter, too. that changes everything. it shows that they haven't been valued, and it is time that they are. that is what we are trying to say, and if maybe i could flesh that out a bit better, because
you discover the tragedy of his death when you understand the value of his life. i want to flesh that out more if i could. [applause] >> one of the great things in the book is that he does, like when you talk about his sense of humor. he was an interesting person, and the value of his life is really revealed. >> and the vision of him in his casket told us more than we could then just reading about it. and hopefully visuals in a film could do more than words in a book could. that is where they have to take
over what i couldn't do, because i wasn't making a movie, i was writing a book. >> i would like to know, what do you have to do to get it cold case -- a cold case reopened? second question, where are we with the extension of the emmett till bill? >> i don't know if i could do either one justice. >> the second question first, the reauthorization of the emmett till act. it is presently before congress. we expect as early as any day now for it to pass that of the united dates congress. the bill, as it is wrote now -- the bill only originally covered
racially motivated murders from 1969 back. the current bill calls for the extension forward forever. so if there is any civil rights murder, it would come under its jurisdiction. so earlier this year, when it first got passed through the senate and it came to the house and they wanted to make some changes, the irony of the election is that it made it a lot stronger that the bill would get past -- passed. yesterday was the beginning of the lame-duck session.
we fully expected to pass in the lame-duck session. as far as what it takes to get a case reopened, you have to have a lead, a pursuit of truth. you have to have dialogue, and be able to communicate between law enforcement and others to bring evidence to the table. and you have to want to know whatever the real truth is in the particular matter. if you do have any unsolved cases, i will certainly talk with you about it. but once the bill passes, there will be a stronger infrastructure in place for unsolved racially motivated murders. people will be able to column forward -- come forward easier than. [applause] >> i have a question about the judicial process. why was the guy not convicted in the first try, and the emmett
till family did not build a strong case? >> i'm sorry, i didn't catch -- >> my question was about the judicial process. why he was not convicted in the first trial, and it took so long. what was the reason. the first time, the till family does not have a strong case? >> well, the defense -- first of all, it was hard to have an all-white jury, and it was a case that involved breaking a
taboo. the state was able to turn and characterize this into an attempted rape. any interaction like that between a white woman and a black man back that would have -- back then would have outraged people, whether it was a wolf whistle or at -- an attempted rape. a jury to convict anybody in a case between a black and and a white woman, they would never rule in favor of the black man, or the conviction of the man who killed him. they made the argument that the body wasn't emmett till's. yes, he was kidnapped and no one has seen him sense, and the ring is on his finger, but even though they had a witness who heard the beating going on in the shed, they dismissed his
testimony. basically, it was circumstantial. there was no proof, beyond a reasonable doubt in their minds. they had that legal thing to cling to. basically, pretty simple. [applause] the all-white jury would never convict a black male, because it all boils down to the racist elements of that. last question. >> i am 67 years old. this past weekend, i had the experience of a lifetime. i got to two or -- to tour the national museum of african american history in the. -- washington dc. [applause] >> thank you.
i would like everyone here to ask themselves what is their mindset? before emmett till, there were lynchings going on. they were said in public places. -- set in public places, and had no retribution. everybody should read cottage he woodson, the miseducation of the negro, and what they never told you. when we start being responsible to our children, we will have a better america. our current president has tried to put in place some things. the new president is talking
about abolishing those things. until we get back into schools and put god back into the schools, we are going to have a problem. [applause] >> ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here. the book is for sale around the corner here. thank you all very much for coming, it has been an important evening. thank you very much for coming. [applause] >> interested in american history tv? visit our website to see our upcoming special -- schedule. american artifacts, lectures of history and more, at www.c-span.org/history.
it is >> coming up next on "the presidency," sen. warren: him -- warren bingham discusses his new book, "george washington's 1791 southern tour." george washington's mount vernon hosted this event. it's about an hour and 20 minutes. mr. shank: i want to welcome you all here this evening to this book talk. we have a great topic for tonight. the washington library is proud to offer three monthly book talks as part of our mission to disseminate knowledge as part of -- about the american revolutionary founding eras.