Till exhibition opens in north Miss. library

Published 7:41 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2007

A new exhibition in the Lee County library tells the story of one of Mississippi’s most infamous slayings during the burgeoning civil-rights era.

“Emmett Till: The Murder That Changed America,” opened Monday and runs through Feb. 2. Officials said it will go later to the National Cathedral in Washington.

Delta State University professor William Henry Outlaw compiled the collection of photographs, newspaper articles and letters that tell the story of the notorious 1955 murder of the black 14-year-old from Chicago and the trial and acquittal of two white men.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Till is said to have wolf-whistled and flirted with the wife of a white store owner in the Delta community of Money, where the teen was visiting relatives. A fisherman found him dead several days later in the Tallahatchie River with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck.

Till’s mother opened her son’s casket in Chicago and thousands of mourners saw the mutilated body, focusing attention on racial brutality in the South.

About a month later, 24-year-old Roy Bryant, owner of Bryant’s Meat Market and Grocery, and 36-year-old J.D. Milam, Bryant’s half-brother, were acquitted of the murder. In 1956 the two men admitted what they had done to Till to William Bradford Huie, a writer for Look magazine.

Mississippi Humanities Council gave Outlaw a special achievement award for the exhibition.

“We are very pleased to have this exhibit make the Lee County Library its first stop, before it goes to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.,” said Jan Willis, the library’s director. “This is the first time the exhibit has left Delta State University.”

Willis said the exhibition went to Tupelo because of the work of Robert Bruce Smith, one of three sons of the case’s prosecutor. Tupelo is about 120 miles northwest of Money.

“It’s a Mississippi story,” Smith said, “one of the biggest Mississippi stories of all times.”

The FBI reopened an investigation of the Till case in 2004 but decided in March 2006 not to press federal charges. The case was turned over to District Attorney Joyce Chiles for possible state charges.

Chiles said a review team in the investigation was expected to meet in December to determine whether the case should go to a grand jury. Chiles was out of the office Monday and could not immediately be reached.