In the summer of 1955, the gruesome murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. Now, the courtroom where his murderers were acquitted is being transformed into an interactive history museum.

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Photo of 14-year-old Emmett Till (Courtesy Photo)

David Tell, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, is leading the project which will create the content needed to transform the courtroom in the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Miss., into the museum.

Tell previously worked with other scholars and community groups to create the Emmett Till Memory Project—a website and smartphone app designed to commemorate the death and memory of Till. The Project uses GPS to focus on 51 sites in and around the Mississippi Delta that played a significant role in Till’s death and his killers’ trial.

That information will be used to feed the digital content of the interactive museum, which will be funded by a $500,000 grant awarded to the Emmett Till Memorial Commission of Tallahatchie County Inc. by the National Parks Service. The museum will be accessible when court is not in session.

“There are 12 windows in the courtroom, and when the shades are pulled down, they will double as screens,” Tell said in a statement. “There will be projectors in the ceiling, and the content they display on the screens will direct people to other sites outside the courtroom – the grocery store where Emmett whistled at a White woman and started the chain of events, the place where he was killed, etc.

“At each site, visitors will get a slightly different version of the story, and, hopefully, as they move around, they will learn not only the facts but how memory works. … It changes, depending on who is telling the story.”

On Aug. 24, 1955, the Black teenager from Chicago, was visiting his cousins in Money, Miss., when they went to a grocery store seeking refreshments. It was later reported that Till either whistled at, flirted with or touched the hand of the store’s White female clerk—and wife of the owner—Carolyn Bryant. Four days later her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till. They severely beat and mutilated Till, also shooting him in the head before discarding his defaced corpse into the Tallahatchie River.

The men were later acquitted by an all-White jury after they deliberated for just over an hour. A few months later, in January 1956, Bryant and Milam confessed to the crime, selling their tale to Look magazine for a few thousand dollars.

According to a Vanity Fair report, Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar, claims in his new book that Carolyn Bryant Donham (she divorced and remarried) admitted she lied about her claims that Till had made verbal and physical advances toward her. Donham has kept away from the public eye and has never given an interview about the infamous lynching case.

“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Tyson cites her as saying in his book, The Blood of Emmett Till.

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO