55 Years of Freedom: Death of Emmett Till set stage for Freedom Summer


Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a series The E-T has compiled commemorating 55 years since Freedom Summer 1964. Freedom Summer represented a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and many of the battles fought for equality were waged right here in Sunflower County.

A barn in Drew has been erased from history as the place of Emmett Till’s murder.

Till’s murder played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement as a stimulant for change.

“The power of place” was very apparent during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Mississippi was a place begging for change, and Freedom Summer was a time to make it happen. The murder and abduction of the 14-year-old Till served as catalyst of a movement for natives and nonnatives of Mississippi to organize behind.

“I can name you 10 SNCC workers who saw the picture (of Till’s body) in Jet Magazine, who remember it as a key thing about their youth that was emblazoned in their minds” were the words of Civil Rights activist, Joyce Ladner.

Civil rights veteran Charles McLaurin’s affiliation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) brought him to Delta where he stimulated, and motivated local people in the movement toward civil rights. 

McLaurin was still a resident of Jackson when he saw images of Till’s battered body.

“It motivated the people I grew up with because we wanted to try to think of what we could do,” said McLaurin. “That bothered me that a 14-year-old could be kidnapped from home and taken out and murdered.”

Sixty-four years after Till’s murder, McLaurin guides the historical tours to the courtroom in Sumner, where his death was tried under the presumption that his murder occured in Tallahatchie County.

McLaurin guides the tour to the plantation historians now say he was actually killed on in Sunflower County.

According to testimony during Till’s murder trial, sharecroppers overheard screaming from the barn that sits on the Drew plantation.

The murder trial of Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam resulted in no convictions.

The two later confessed to the murder in an article for Look magazine, but they were not charged due to double jeopardy.

Although Till was apparently killed in that barn in Drew, there is no commemorative work in Sunflower County of Till although his\ death fueled a movement that spread nationally throughout the next decade.

“The murder of Emmet Till galvanized the Civil Rights movement and civil rights forces”said McLaurin. “For the first time, what was happening to blacks made national news.”


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