Emmett Till: Stay Strong, Keep Fighting

Kaitlyn Fowler
April 25, 2017

Emmett Till, an unintentional icon for the civil rights movement. Emmett Till, a common household name for black mothers who want their black children to come home every day. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was brutally beaten and murdered because a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, accused him of flirting with her. Bryant testified in court that Till whistled at her, grabbed her hand, and sexually harassed her. She said she told this to her husband the day before Till was taken from his home. Now, six decades later, the story has changed.

In 2007, Bryant told Timothy Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar who is writing her memoir, that most of her testimony wasn’t true. It is only now, in 2017, that the general public is made aware of her transgressions. According to Vanity Fair, Bryant told Tyson that nothing Emmett Till did could justify the brutality he faced. This calls several things into question; namely, how did the original story and now the new one affect the Civil Rights Movement and the black community as a whole? and, how do Bryant’s choices affect the story?

12th grader Destiny Dorsey tells how Emmett Till’s story changed the Civil Rights Movement, and how the absence of it may not have changed anything, saying, “If this could happen to him, this could happen to my children, this could happen to me,” Dorsey continued, “It’s still impactful, what happened to him. Parents still think, ‘this could happen to my child’. It was very impactful, but it’s happened before. If it wasn’t [Till], it would’ve been the next person, or somebody else.” She describes how she thinks the situation should be received by the black community, continuing with, “It was a terrible experience, but we need to learn from this and make something positive out of the situation. I wouldn’t say it encourages me but I would say that I try my best for people who have died who are, like me, African American so that they can live through me, in a way. I want to be successful, not just for me, but for the people who couldn’t live long enough to be successful.”

When Bryant confessed that she lied about Till’s murder, many people were horrified. 12th grader Destiny Childress says, “I was mad. It was years and years and years ago, it was so long ago, and she is just now coming out. You’re just now telling everybody? Everything’s done, his mom has died. It’s sad.”

While few people were surprised that Bryant had lied initially, the idea of her seeing the injustice in what she did is a little harder for many to grasp. Dorsey elaborates on this, explaining, “I was infuriated. It wasn’t the fact that she lied, that was bad enough. The only time [Bryant] said nothing happened was when she was trying to write a book, and now she will get profit off of getting a poor, innocent person killed.”

Perhaps the most important question raised by the situation is what people should learn from it. Dorsey wants the white community to know that she is not angry and upset at all white people, just the ones who are racist and discriminatory, while Childress wants the white community to learn from the situation so that it is not repeated. To the black community, however, Childress has only one statement to make. “Stay strong,” she says, “keep fighting.”