There aren’t enough Till markers


Sixty-four years ago this month, 14-year-old Emmett Till was transported uninterrupted across the Tallahatchie and Sunflower County line, and hours later, his deceased body was taken back to the Tallahatchie River where Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam later admitted they disposed of his lifeless body.

What happened to Till between the time he was kidnapped from his uncle’s home and when his lifeless body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River is still being pieced together by historians and journalists who have little more than the trial’s transcripts and Bryant’s and Milam’s own tainted confession to Look Magazine a year after they were acquitted by an all-white jury to go on.

What they do know is that Till was taken to a plantation in Sunflower County, near Drew, and despite what they suggested in their 1956 confession, it is likely Bryant and Milam ended Till’s life in a barn on that property.

The barn, in fact, still stands today. Just a few weeks ago, I traveled to the barn with Jyesha Johnson, The E-T’s multimedia coordinator, to collect photos for our three-part series on Freedom Summer.

If you ride the back roads of both counties in the daytime, there’s often an eerie silence.

Drive it at night, when the tractors are not turning and the ag pilots are grounded, and that silence becomes deafening, and it becomes easy to imagine how such a horrific crime – with the screams of a young boy shouting into the night air as he was beaten and tortured to death - could have taken place without much notice.

And so 64 years after this lynching, gunfire can still ring out in the dead of the Tallahatchie night without so much as a notice or even a response from local deputies.

The sign that commemorates the spot where Till’s body was recovered in 1955 has been riddled with bullets numerous times since it was erected over a decade ago.

And just last week, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting released a story with a picture of three Ole Miss students posing with guns – in the middle of the night – surrounding the sign.

It is unclear whether any of the students or the guns in the photo were responsible for the multitude of holes in the sign, but it does stand out as the lone instance where people traveling to the sign, after dark, for nefarious purposes documented their excursion.

Had they not circulated the photo on their own social media accounts, no one would have ever known they were there.

Without an elaborate camera system, which is likely not going to be placed at the bridge, it’s nearly impossible to solve the vandalism crimes associated with the Till marker.

Knowing this, and the fact that there will always be at least one knothead who will unload a clip into the sign, the new marker slated to be erected later this year will be bulletproof.

That’s good news for the Tallahatchie memorial, but I hope that the sign makers do not stop there.

Sunflower County has its share of blemishes when it comes to its history regarding race, but the county’s involvement in the Till murder was not of its own making.

He was brought here, under the cover of darkness, from Tallahatchie County. That being said, there are no signs in Sunflower County, particularly in the Drew area, to memorialize this county’s connection to the event that served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s.

There needs to be a marker, plain and simple.

The bullet-riddled sign in Tallahatchie County only goes to show that the Till story, even in 2019, needs reinforcing.

The fact that people still go to that bridge to shoot a historical marker that bears the name of a murdered 14-year-old boy demonstrates that the Till story has not been told enough.

It would be great to see Sunflower County make a push to have a historical marker documenting Till’s final moments of life inside Sunflower County.

People come to the Delta every year to tour the markers and properties associated with Till’s death.

Drew should be among those places.

It’s not Sunflower County’s shame necessarily, but it is our story, whether we like it or not.


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