Part III: The Changes of Life after Emmett Till
After the trial, Moses Wright with his family moved out of Mississippi due to the fear of his own safety. He never came back until passing away in 1960. Bryant with his wife went back to the store but closed soon after. The couple moved to Texas and divorced in 1979. Ryant died in 1990 because of cancer. Milam went back to the farm but suffered a boycott from African Americans refusing to work for him. Milam also moved to Texas and died in 1981.
Mamie Till, the brave mother, continued to teach in Chicago until her retirement in 1978. She became an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement many years after. In 2003, she passed away at age 81. Without her, Emmett Till’s murder would not be the key to “open” Americans’ eyes to see the racism “plague” which was destroying equality among all races. It was a spark in the uprising of civil activism and resistance for African Americans.
Three months after the murder, a remarkable view of racism and human rights happened in December 1955. The turning event was in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks, the 42-year-old Black woman, refused the offer of her bus driver to give up her seat to a white man. Rosa Parks became a civil activist after this event, and mentioned her original motivation: “I thought about Emmett Till, and I could not go back. My legs and feet were not hurting, that is a stereotype. I paid the same fare as others, and I felt violated.” Rosa Parks’s action became a symbol during the racism protest, created a change in the American point of view on equality.
Emmett Till was one of 40 people listed in the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1991, along the route in Chicago was named after him. Myrlie Evers, a civil rights activist in the 1960s, shared: “The Emmett Till case was one that shook the foundations of Mississippi-both Black and White, Uh, because of one, with the white community because of the fact that it had become nationally publicized. With us as blacks, because it said, even a child was not safe from racism and, and bigotry and death.”More than 50 years after the death of Emmett Till, Black and White voters rejected prejudices and fears of the past to elect the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya to be the 44th President of the United States – Barack Obama – the first African American President in the U.S history.
On May 10th, 2004, the Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the Till case for further investigation. Following this opportunity, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 was introduced in Congress by John Lewis and Kenny Hulshof. “The act had over 50 bipartisan co-sponsors in Congress. The House of Representatives passed it on June 20th, 2007, by a vote of 422 to 2; only Reps. Lynn Westmoreland and Ron Paul voted against it. In the Senate, the act was passed unanimously on September 24th, 2008, and signed into law by President George W. Bush in October” From the investigation group, FBI also strongly recommended people with information concerning a civil rights era murder to contact them. “The time to come forward is now. If we work together, perhaps we can uncover the truth while there is still a chance to bring the criminals who perpetrated these vile murders to justice.” Looking back at Milam’s horrifying response to people’s response about Emmett Till’s case, the image of the young boy must continue to make something right out of a terrible wrong like racism towards black people as well as minorities in general.
“Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong. I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Mamie Till’s words touched the sympathy of many African Americans in the North with a similar thought. The NAACP asked Mamie Till to go across the country spreading the message of her son’s death on racial equality. It was one of the most successful fundraising campaigns the NAACP had ever known. To never forget those dark days for the minorities especially Black Americans during the 1960s, the murder of Emmett Till must be preserved and studied carefully. During an interview in the course of doing [Eyes on the Prize], Juan Williams – an American journalist and political analyst for Fox News Channel – showed how Emmett Till’s death changed the young minds: “It was not only young black people who spoke about Till, but young white people as well, who had the idea that this is someone our age… ‘Well, it’s not that I can’t be the teacher or nurse, but if they kill people, this is serious,’ and those young white people also said, ‘If they are killing people, it’s not just a matter of some folks don’t like colored people, this is horrible, and this can’t be allowed to go on. I’ve got to do something about this.’” After all, the Emmett Till case was a shock to the nation on violence against blacks in the South as well as a legendary story passing on after generations.