From the Memphis Commercial Appeal

         

Tallahatchie apologizes for role in Till case

County also unveils marker remembering slain black teen

By Shelia Byrd
Associated Press
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

JACKSON, Miss. -- Tallahatchie County, where Emmett Till's body was pulled from a river after he was murdered for whistling at a white woman more than 50 years ago, officially apologized Tuesday for the way the crime was handled.

The Board of Supervisors and Sheriff William Brewer Jr. signed the resolution that was an apology to Till's family. They also unveiled a marker commemorating the death of the black youth.

"We felt that this community needed to speak," Supervisor Jerome Little said in a telephone interview. "Books have been written, stories have been told, documentaries have been made and the community of Tallahatchie has never said a word about the trial and how it played a major role in it."

Simeon Wright, 64, one of Till's relatives who traveled from a Chicago suburb for the ceremony in Sumner, said he was grateful for the county's gesture.

"Back in 1955, Tallahatchie County did nothing to help us. This is all they can do, and we appreciate it and accept," Wright said.

Wright was a 12-year-old the night two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, invaded his family's home in Money, Miss., and snatched Till from his bed. Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, had come to Mississippi to visit his uncle, who was Wright's father.

While in Mississippi, Till did something that was unacceptable in the rigidly segregated Deep South. He whistled at a white woman -- Carolyn Bryant, the wife of Roy Bryant.

Till's body was found in the Tallahatchie River three days after his disappearance. A gin fan was tied around his neck with barbed wire. His left eye was missing, as were most of his teeth; his nose was crushed, and there was a hole in his right temple.

Nearly 100,000 people looked into his open casket during a four-day public viewing in Chicago. A graphic photo of his face appeared in Jet magazine. The images fueled national outrage and helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of murdering Till by an all-white Tallahatchie County jury in 1955. They later confessed to the killing in a magazine article.

Till's murder investigation was reopened in 2004, but last year a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict 73-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham. Both Milam and Roy Bryant are dead.

A marker that gives a brief history of the case has been placed on the lawn of the Tallahatchie Courthouse in Sumner, where the 1955 trial occurred.

State Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said Tuesday's event, which included a tour of historic civil rights sites and a luncheon for Till's family and the community, was significant.

Jordan said "the Board of Supervisors has shown courage the state of Mississippi did not." The lawmaker introduced a bill in the 2007 legislative session asking the state of Mississippi to apologize for Till's slaying. The bill died in committee.

The Emmett Till Memorial Commission is moving forward with plans to restore the old courthouse in Sumner to create a museum devoted to the case, said Susan Glisson, executive director of the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, which is also involved in the project.

The biracial commission, created by Tallahatchie supervisors two years ago, has received a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Archives and History for planning and development, said Glisson, whose institute is based at the University of Mississippi.

"I think it is incredibly important that this community call for truth," Glisson said.