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From Inside the Flap
Not Just “Another Book on Emmett Till”
I sit in the courtroom in Sumner, Mississippi, the same courtroom where in September 1955, brothers J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were acquitted of the murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, a boy from Chicago who knew only northern “city ways.” The old courthouse, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, stands still and silent, guarded only by a single confederate soldier remaining on guard in the courtyard. The soldier, like my ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, is no longer in a position of pride and hero worship like in the past. His very being is threatened by present day haters who feel he symbolizes much more than “preservation of state’s rights.” Perhaps, he even looks a little remorseful as if he is being held responsible for the acquittal of the two child murderers over sixty years ago in this old courthouse. The stately but “ghostly” old building looks and feels every bit as it did in that day—held captive in a perpetual time warp. It is September 1955—FOREVER!
Sitting at the bench where Judge Swango’s gavel pounded out control of the emotionally charged audience, I am transported back to 1955. The vibes pulsate like a heart feeding a mind gone mad! I cast my eyes over the old auditorium seats and feel the tension of two hundred sweat-drenched, white males as they watch, their expressions etched in support of murderers J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. I wish I could tell the white spectators their claiming the two “peckerwoods” as their own will be short-lived—to be overshadowed by J.W. Milam’s confession a few weeks later to reporter William Bradford Huie for $4000 paid to the brothers to “confess the truth” for an article in Look Magazine.
An imaginary fog hangs in the ceiling like hoarfrost as the crowd of men below puff away on their filter-less cigarettes, or switch from chewing on stub ends to smoking Old Stogies, adding to the effluence. But today the fans remain stationary and silent—not whipping the thick miasma into toxic clouds as their blades once did. The fans, obsolete except for their place in history, have been outperformed by cold air conditioning, not original but necessary for the mass of tourists who visit in the present paying homage to the boy who died too young—too violently.
Fifty or more black spectators sit in the back row or lean against the walls, some inching their way closer to open windows but being careful not to get in the way of white onlookers, all hoping to catch a breeze albeit a scorching one. The courtroom can hold no more curious watchers; its walls bulge close to bursting filled with jurors, lawyers, spectators, journalists from both black and white newspapers and magazines, television reporters, families of the accused, and the family of Emmett Till—including his brave mother Mamie.
Casting glances around me, I breathe heavily as reality returns. The courtroom is empty, devoid of crowds of perspiring bodies, of tobacco smoke, and even of the brutal heat and humidity of Mississippi’s summer. The keys on my laptop dance with emotion as I sit at Judge Swango’s bench, and even though I am alone in the old courtroom, I experience no trepidation UNTIL… One of the big double doors opens making a terrific noise! My eyes dart from my computer screen to the back of the courtroom and I stare at the door, watching it open and then bang closed. No one enters—at least no one I can see! No footfalls pound the wood floor; no chair squeaks as if pulled down for seating. But my senses tell me I am not alone.
After perhaps a minute of total silence, I shrug my shoulders and continue to write, wondering in the back of my mind if this could be the shadowy presence I caught in a video a couple of months earlier at the head of the table in the jury deliberation room. Or perhaps it is the male who lingers in the courtroom, enjoying any “live” person who enters—the man who yelled, “Wait!” when Bill Foster, our guide on our first visit here, turned out the lights signaling our departure. Or, could it be the burly white male with the southern drawl, the gruff, controlling “officer of the court”, or of Tallahatchie County, who orders my friend Belinda, “Get off the phone!”
Blood Moon Publishing is an imprint of Double Dragon Publishing