Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago, was tortured and murdered in 1955. (Courtesy photo)
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago, was tortured and murdered in 1955. (Courtesy photo) Credit: Courtesy photo

I just saw the movie, “Till.”

If you need the inspiration to vote in the 2022 midterms, and in every election moving forward at the federal, state, and local levels of government, vote for Emmett Till.

Of course, it is not possible to literally vote for Till. At age 14, he was brutally murdered by a lynch mob on the night of August 28, 1955, while on vacation in Money, Mississippi. What was the crime? Whistling at the owner of a convenience store, Carolyn Bryant Donham, a White woman. Her husband, Roy Bryant, was part of the lynch mob.

Years after Till’s death, as well as that of her husband and others who participated in the murder, Donham, the daughter of a plantation manager and nurse, recanted her story of that afternoon. During the 1955 trial, all charged with kidnapping and murder were acquitted by an all-white jury. Donham testified that Till grabbed her hand, and waist, and propositioned her, saying he had been with “White women before.” However, in a 2008 interview with writer Timothy Tyson, he says Donham told him, “That part’s not true.” 

She also admitted, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”

No one served time for Till’s murder. Not Roy Bryant. Not J.W. Milam. Not Donham. Bryant and Milam admitted to torturing and killing Till less than a year after the murder and trial in an interview with Look Magazine, for which they were paid $4,000. 

I am not aware of Look Magazine making any monetary payment to the Till family or the Civil Rights Movement.

Bryant and Milam are deceased. Donham, 88, resides in North Carolina.

Even after Till’s family members investigating his death discovered an unserved arrest warrant for Donham last August. A grand jury, after seven hours of deliberations, returned a “No Bill” to charges of kidnapping and manslaughter.

The movie “Till” is the story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s relentless pursuit of justice for her son’s murder. Even if you know the story of this chapter of American history, it is still painful to watch. I wiped away tears when the actress portraying Till-Mobley, Danielle Deadwyler, screamed with a sorrow that can only come from a mother’s soul, upon seeing the crate carrying her son’s body when it arrived by train from Mississippi to his hometown of Chicago. 

The tears continued to flow as Deadwyler reacted to seeing Till’s disfigured body at the funeral parlor, lovingly, through her tears, caressing his young body from his feet up to his unrecognizable face. It was not enough for Bryant and Milan, and others, to beat the child. They removed his tongue and shot him in the head, before discarding his body in the Tallahatchie River.

Till-Mobley’s decision to “let the world see what Mississippi did to my boy,” by allowing a Black photographer into the funeral parlor to photograph Emmett, publishing it in the Black press, and holding an open casket funeral, sparked the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was signed into law on September 9th by President Dwight Eisenhower. The Act established the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and empowered federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote.

I was blessed to meet Till-Mobley in the 1990s at a luncheon in New York. It was at this luncheon that I also met Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Mississippi NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers, assassinated in the driveway of his Jackson home on June 12, 1963. Evers shepherded Till-Mobley during the 1955 trial for Emmett’s murder and led the investigation by the NAACP.

Till-Mobley, who passed in 2003, could not have been more gracious. I gave her a hug, apologized for her pain over losing Emmett, and thanked her for ensuring that his death was not in vain. She thanked me and said, “We all have a role to play in ensuring that Emmett’s painful death was not in vain by always voting.”

I have never forgotten her words. I will always vote for Emmett Till. So should you.

Austin R. Cooper, Jr.

President

Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.

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Austin R. Cooper Jr.

Austin R. Cooper, Jr., serves as the President of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc. The firm provides legislative, political and communications counsel in Washington, D.C., for governmental, nonprofit and...

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