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Cousin of Emmett Till: History is not history unless its true.

mcneir | 4/5/2012, 7 a.m.

Emmett did whistle at that white woman

Wright continued with his story. Emmett never touched Carolyn Bryant (the co-owner of the store along with husband Roy Bryant), he said. Emmett never asked her for a date or put his arm around her. And as for the part of him even speaking to her and his words being misinterpreted because of a speech impediment that would come up many years later that was probably advanced by someone who wasnt even there. What is true, according to Wright, is that Emmett Till was only in the store by himself for just a few seconds before he [Wright] was sent in to get him by his older brother, Maurice, who wanted to make sure nothing happened to him and that he did not make any errors given the strict rules of Jim Crow South. I was sent in to make sure Emmett behaved himself and we were on our way out of the store after having made our purchases. Wright said. Thats when the infamous wolf-whistle took place. And yes, Emmett did whistle at her. We never expected him to do anything like that even though he was always known to pull pranks and we were scared out of our minds. I remember our jumping into the car so fast that my brother Maurice dropped his cigarette and had to reach down to pick it up and we took off down that road as fast as we could. We couldnt get out of there fast enough. Shortly after leaving the store, we saw a car coming up from behind us, and we thought it might be Mrs. Bryant husband or someone coming after us, so everyone jumped out of the car and ran through the cotton fields. I stayed hidden in the car. But the car passed by we figured that the worst was behind us. But as history would show, the worst was yet to come.

The abduction and waiting for Emmett to return

Three days passed and despite warning from a neighbor, the boys believed that all had been forgotten. According to Wright, one neighbor, Ruthie Mae Crawford, told him and his brother that she had heard rumors that some men were going to get the boys and warned them that they might be in danger. We never took her seriously, Wright said. But they did come for Emmett. Around 2:30 a.m., on August 27, 1955, Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Till with the explanation that they were going to rough him up and return him later that morning. I was in the bed with Emmett and they (Milam and Bryant) told me to put my head down and go to sleep, Wright said, But I kept my eyes open. My mom offered them money to leave Emmett alone and I think Bryant was willing to accept it. But Milam had other plans. He was calling the shots and said that Emmett had to be whipped. After they left with Emmett, no one said a word nothing. I sat in my bed and kept listening for cars, waiting for them to bring Emmett back. As it got towards dawn, I knew that he was never coming back. When I look back on it, we (boys) were just as guilty as Milam and Bryant because we never told my father what had transpired at the store. If we had, Im sure he would have sent Emmett back to Chicago right away. But Emmett begged us not to tell. Even as they were taking Emmett away, he didnt seem to be afraid. Maybe he could not believe that these men would really hurt him, much less kill him for whistling at a white woman. I didnt think so either. But I know if I had thought so, they would have had to kill me too. It would be several days before the brutally beaten and barely recognizable body of Emmett Till was found, tied to a 75-pound cotton gin fan in the Tallahatchie River near Glendora, another small cotton town north of Money. Till was naked with a bullet hole in his head, only two teeth remaining in his mouth, both ears gone, the bridge of his nose hacked like it had been cut by a meat cleaver and his genitals removed. His face and the back of his head had been separated. Milam and Bryant admitted kidnapping Till, but said they had let him go. On September 23, 1955, a jury of 12 white males acquitted both defendants. Deliberations took just 67 minutes. My father was one of the key witnesses and he really risked his life, Wright said. Remember that he had been brought up in a culture of slavery and so to tell the truth and testify against a white person was like committing suicide. I was only 12-years-old then, almost 13 and I believed that justice would prevail. After all. there were eyewitnesses. I simply did not realize that Jim Crow would allow whites to kill a Black boy without legal consequence. I remember how shocked the people in the courtroom were when Dad identified Milam and Bryant as the kidnappers. My father was a preacher who normally spoke without the use of any notes. He was an eloquent man and contrary to what one reporter, James Hicks (a Black journalist from the Baltimore Afro-American) wrote, as well as what Eyes On the Prize suggests, he did not say Dar he when pointing to Milam and Bryant. My father would never have spoken like that. Thats the kind of thing that reporters and writers did which perpetuated the myth that all Blacks in the south were ignorant and uneducated.