On Thursday, October 27, 2022, hundreds of people line up to watch a showing of the movie “Till” at John F. Kennedy High School in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. When Emmett Till’s mother flew to Mississippi to testify in the murder case of the two white men who killed her son in 1955, the small, all-Black community of Mound Bayou turned out to be a haven for her.
The Movie: “Till”
A significant portion of Mound Bayou’s 1,500 residents attended the screening of “Till” on Thursday night. This weekend, the movie will be seen nationwide in theatres after a restricted distribution since October 14.
In front of a predominantly Black crowd in the gym/auditorium of Mound Bayou’s John F. Kennedy High School, one of the filmmakers, Keith Beauchamp, said, “This site, this city, is significant to the story of Emmett Till.”
Days before the screening, a bronze statue of Till was installed in Greenwood, Mississippi, located 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away.
Beauchamp is one of the producers and authors of “Till,” which primarily focuses on Mamie’s Till-reaction Mobley’s to the death of her only child and her transformation into a civil rights fighter. Her 14-year-old son flew to Mississippi in August 1955 to see relatives. He was kidnapped, tortured, and ultimately slain by white males after they claimed he had flirted with Carolyn Bryant, a white woman who worked in a small-town shop.
When her son died, Till-Mobley—then known as Mamie Bradley—insisted on having an open-casket burial in Chicago so everyone could view her son’s battered body. Photos were published by Jet magazine.
A few weeks after Till’s body was discovered in a river, an all-white, all-male jury in Tallahatchie County exonerated the shopkeeper’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother J.W. Milam. Later, the two men came clean in a “Look” magazine interview.
Formerly enslaved people established Mound Bayou in the cotton-growing Mississippi Delta in 1887 as a stand-alone town where Black people might prosper despite Jim Crow hatred.
Leaders of the NAACP, including Medgar Evers of Mississippi, worked with Dr. T.R.M. Howard, a local businessman, and physician, to ensure Till’s mother’s safety and protection in the community. Black journalists covering the trial from Sumner, 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) away, were also given sanctuary at Mound Bayou.
The lynching of Emmett Till ignited the civil rights movement, and Black parents have warned their children to be cautious in a nation where racism still existed for centuries.
Joe Stidhum, 65, was one of the Till family members at the Thursday screening. Stidhum was born two years after Till was killed. He said that Till’s mother and his grandfather were related.
Stidhum claimed that while he and his ten siblings were growing up in Mound Bayou, his mother was stern with them, but “she didn’t give us her side of it until we grew older.” Before learning about Till’s horrific death, he claimed to have been 12 or 13 years old.
After the movie, Stidhum stated, “That’s when my mom revealed to us why she was so protective of us until we got into adolescence.”
The nearest movie theatre to Mound Bayou is Greenville, Mississippi, more than 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) away.
Till’s lynching has never resulted in a conviction. Starting in 2004, the U.S. Justice Department launched several investigations in response to inquiries regarding whether charges may be made against any live individuals.
After Carolyn Bryant, who has since remarried and used the name Carolyn Bryant Donham, was mentioned in a 2017 book as stating she lied when she claimed Till grabbed her, whistled at her, and made advances toward her, the Justice Department launched an investigation in 2018. According to relatives, Donham, who is in her 80s, has publicly denied retracting her claims. Without filing any charges, the department ended its inquiry in late 2021.
A 1955 arrest warrant for “Mrs. Roy Bryant” was discovered earlier this year in a courthouse basement by Deborah Watts, a far cousin of Emmett Till and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. A Mississippi grand jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Donham in August. Watts stated on Thursday that the authorities should still deliver the arrest warrant for Donham.
According to Watts, “justice delayed since 1955 is justice denied.” “Without any hate, hostility, or violence, we want what any victim’s family would desire: that those culpable for their actions be held accountable. Nobody ought to be exempt from the law.
The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act
President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in March. Beauchamp told the crowd after the film’s showing that he is all for paying tribute to Till, but he wants more.
According to Beauchamp, the goal of racial harmony in this nation cannot be achieved through legislation. “Truth and justice are essential.”
Okay,” murmured a few in the crowd seated on blue plastic chairs and bleachers. Alright.”