Behind direction of Dr. King David Godwin, the Department of Visual and Performing Arts along with a remarkable cast bought to life the happenings and series of events that led to the unthinkable death of Emmett Louis Till that occurred on Aug. 28, 1955.
The play, The State of Mississippi and the Face of Emmett Till, began with a young Emmett, portrayed by Ibraheem Farmer, reciting “The Gettysburg Address” to his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, played by Dawn Clements. What many did not know was that Till suffered from a bad speech impediment- stuttering, in which Till would have to whistle to try to allow his words to flow freely.
Till and his mother both lived in Chicago, for Mamie had feared for her son’s life to live and grow up in Money, Mississippi, where she was originally from. Till’s uncle and pastor, played by Adarian Williams, spent quite some time trying to persuade Mamie to allow Emmett to go with him to Money to give him the opportunity to not only see the South but to meet and spend time with his family members as well. After much convincing, Mamie agreed to let Emmett go to Mississippi, unaware that it would be the last time that she would see her son alive.
While in a small grocery store owned by Carolyn Bryant, Emmett attempted to buy some bubble gum and while speaking to Bryant, Emmett began to stutter. Remembering what he was told to do; to whistle when he had trouble getting his words out, Till was mistakenly confused for whistling at her. Bryant had no idea of Till’s problem with stuttering.
Later on that evening, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam went to Till’s great-uncle’s house in which they dragged Emmett from it, placed him in the back of their pickup truck, and drove off with him. Noted as one of the most horrifying hate crimes ever, Emmett was beaten, his eyes were gouged out, and he was shot in the head. His body had been thrown in the Tallahatchie River and could only be identified by the ring he had on his father that once belonged to his father.
After finding out about her son’s death, Mamie fought tooth and nail to have her son’s body returned to Chicago. Once she gained possession of the corpse, Mamie insisted on having an open-casket funeral service so that the world could witness the brutality of her son’s killing.
Images of Till’s mutilated body were published in black-oriented magazines including Jet. In September 1955, both Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and murder. After a trial, that lasted two months, a jury declined to indict the two, despite the testimony they had given that they had admitted to taking Till.
While Bryant and Milam both thought they were getting away with murder, they suffered from the crimes they committed but in different ways. Many of their friends and supporters, who once helped fund their legal fees, cut them off completely. Blacks refused to work for Milam on his cotton plant, and he was forced to pay whites higher wages.
Justice was never served for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. For a hate crime that occurred only 60 years ago, the face of Emmett Till continues to live on in the faces of young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown whose killers were never found guilty for their transgressions against another human being. “Until justice rolls down like water and righteous like a mighty stream”, this nation we live in screams to be heard, as long as America chooses not to plug their ears.