Trio of lawmakers honored for Till highway designation

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Mississippi Worker’s Center for Human Rights honored three lawmakers over the weekend for their role in naming a well-traveled stretch of U.S. 49 after Emmett Till, the young man whose violent death became a rallying cry for civil rights.

The center gave its highest honor, the Fannie Lou Hamer Human Rights Award, to state Sens. Johnnie Walls of Greenville, David Jordan of Greenwood and Robert Jackson of Marks for their work in passing the bill.

Saturday’s ceremony was part of the center’s Black History Month celebration at Coleman Middle School, which also included a performance by the Maddrama Theater Company of Jackson.

Center director Jaribu Hill said it was inspiring to see part of the highway renamed for Till.

“We think that it is very significant because it shows that the state Legislature is coming some distance in terms of at least understanding the great sacrifice that was made when this young boy was cut down in such a brutal way because of hatred,” Hill said. “To see the image of this young boy’s name as you travel down the highway, it says that there are people who remember that. We believe that this is a step in the right direction, and we applaud the individuals who made this possible and for the role they played.”

Till, a 14-year-old Chicago youth, was murdered in Leflore County in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. The men accused in his death were acquitted by an all-white jury, but later admitted they killed him.

A Till memorial is not only a way to mark progress made in civil rights, Hill said, but it also serves as a reminder that there is still work to do.

Hill said everyone should be aware that discrimination still exists in many forms, whether it is lower pay for women in the work force, lack of access to work opportunities for people who have physical handicaps or any time “people are treated differently because of the color of their skin.”

A Leflore County grand jury is expected to consider charges in the Till case next month.

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.

Jordan and Jackson were on hand to accept their Fannie Lou Hamer awards. Walls, an attorney, could not attend because of his work in an ongoing trial.

“This is an honor that I will cherish,” Jordan said, “because I knew this lady.”