tv 1955 Emmett Till Murder Case CSPAN January 7, 2017 10:55am-12:31pm EST
author devery anderson talks about his book "in it till : the murder that shocked the world and propel the civil rights movement." i am representing as the scholar in residence of the kansas city public library system. [applause] you are in for a very exciting treat, and to keep it going in a flowing way, i am destined to wed the introduction, so stay on point. but the person, my friend, who is here tonight, who came from southlake, utah, his name is devery anderson.
he is the author of the book till: the murder that shocked the world and propelled the civil rights movement." it is one of the most definitive on the subject. i have the privilege to work on till's case,mett starting in 2002, to work on the reopening of the case, and to have the united states congress passed the emmett till unsolved civil rights crime act. that is being reauthorized again. congress is working on it right now. we expected next several weeks for that to pass. [applause] devery anderson is an editor at signature books in utah and is working on a masters degree in
publishing at the george washington university. he is the editor and co-editor of several books on mormon history, and in 2015, the university press of mississippi book "emmett till: the murder that shocked the world and propelled the civil rights movement." it will be the basis of a miniseries produced by jay-z, will smith and others. he has spoken in the united states and the united kingdom. his research has resulted in over a dozen trips to mississippi and chicago, where he interviewed key players and conducted archival research. he is researching a book on the mississippi freedom summer. he lives in celtic city and is the father of three children. now, to introduce another
participant -- i only have to say one sentence. his name is crosby kemper iii, ,000 books in5 his personal library. thank you. [applause] >> good evening to everybody. we will talk about alvin later, because he is an important subject of this conversation, as many of you know. i want to start out by asking the obvious question. you are a mormon historian and documentarian. the emmett till case does not seem to be in that wheelhouse, exactly. what led you into your interest in the emmett till case?
>> first of all, thank you very much for having me here. admire alvin so much. it is great to be here with this friendly group tonight. i moved to selig city in 1994. i was a student of the university of utah, moved there to go to school. around the time the semester started, i had my library card and public library card and this was back when we had videos and not dvds. we don't really have those anymore. this is back in the old days. i saw a series on the shelf about the civil rights movement and i checked out the first couple of tapes.
thefirst segment was about emmett till case. it was 1994. it just grabbed me immediately, like nothing ever had in my life. within a couple of weeks or months, people were asking about -- i was asking people about emmett till and i wanted to learn more about it, outside of the video. there was not much. there was a book that i found and i read it. there was another one that came out and i read the books and wanted to read more. there was not much. it consumed me right away and did not let me go. really, for a minute. one thing led to another. i came to know the mother of
emmett till. i never met her in person. we became friends and the case became a personal connection and we became good friends. one of the people i admired more than anyone in this world. when she died, this is one alvin -- this is when alvin came into the scene and the case was reopened and i was hoping emmett till's mother and i realized there was something in me that had to come out. i was not happy with other books that had come out. others attempted to do what they did well, but nobody wrote a comprehensive book. i could write about what
happened and the federal government is involved and all of these things are happening. i don't know how this book on history was going to end. >> almost everybody, probably everybody in the audience, knows something about emmett till. he was a young boy in mississippi. tell the story. give us the outline of what actually happened in 1955. >> he was an african-american youth and had family in
mississippi. >> 14 years old. >> just completed eighth grade. went with a cousin for the last two weeks of the summer and spent time with a relative and they got there during cotton picking time. after his arrival, he and his cousin, after being on the field, went to money. they went to downtown, with a street with a couple of stores. one of them was the grocery and meet market.
-- the bryant grocery and meat market. they went to get some refreshment. i think there were seven or eight of them. emmett till went to buy some bubblegum. after he left the store, according to witnesses -- his cousins and others who were there, the wife of the storekeeper was working behind the counter that night. mr. kemper: she was a beauty queen. mr. anderson: she had one these beauty pageants. she was known to be pretty. a local beauty. outside, he whistled at her. a wolf whistle. that upset her and people he was with. she went towards the car and people said, oh, she's going to get a gun. let's get out of here. they left. this was on a wednesday night , august we fourth. on saturday night, going into sunday morning at 2:00, some men
pounded at the door and he opened the door. a man had a flashlight and a gun. on the -- another man was there with him and another man was on the porch. the two man in the front barged in and went room to room until they found the boy they were looking for. they did not know his name. they knew who he was. they went to him and said, are you the one who did the smart talk the other night? he said, "yeah." of course, they were upset that siraid yeah, and not, "yes, ," like they would do in the south back then. they took him outside. they heard what sounded like a woman's voice say, yes. they put him in the car and they drove off. they kidnapped him at gunpoint
and the following wednesday -- mr. kemper: they all pretty much admitted that they had taken him. mr. anderson: right. between the time of the kidnapping and when the body was found, it was just seen as a kidnapping. each man admitted that they took him and said they let him go. because it turned out he wasn't the right they were arrested on one. kidnapping charges on sunday and monday and, on wednesday, a fisherman was in his boat and he looked in the distance and saw a pair of knees protruding. he met a call and the sheriffs -- tallahasseee
county and leflore county came. tallahassee was where they believe the body was found on the river. they called moses and he identified him as his nephew. we now had a murder case. here he is, murdered over a wolf whistle. that was the news of the day, a boy killed for a wolf whistle. >> this was 1955. brown versus board of education happened the year before. the civil rights movement was starting and the high point moments and the background. there were five candidates and they were all segregationist.
there was the background and it became a national story. the family is in chicago and it became a north versus south thing immediately. mr. anderson: yeah, the governor of illinois wrote the governor of mississippi. asking them to take action, and of course, mississippi was very about the outside influence. as the rest of the nation came down the mississippi, that put them in a situation were they became more and more defensive. by the time of the trial -- mr. kemper: you suggested, if it
had just then a murder trial, it could have gone a different direction. becameners suddenly sectional about it rather than about justice. mr. anderson: it could have. early on, editorials made their way to the press and just public opinion, very much in sympathy till, early on, for a few days. but once they were attacked by others and they felt others trying to tell them how to deal with what they felt was a local situation, yeah, the tide really changed. it is not just something that historians have looked back and looked at the evidence. newspaper editors were saying, in the last few days, everything had shifted in defense of the men in the south because of that reason. mr. kemper: huge national
attention. as soon as the trial began the wasws media attention anonymous. there were 60 or 70 people from all of the major news outlets, etc.? mr. anderson: yeah. the trial began a few weeks after the murder. his body was discovered the men august 31. went on trial on september 19. it was not even three weeks later. suddenly, the world was watching the trial. mr. kemper: was a very different path to justice today. mr. anderson: yes. mr. kemper: the trial happens immediately and the end of lacey p -- the naacp takes this on and wilson becomes a major player in this. mr. anderson: right. mr. kemper: the trial comes about that, to some extent. about the end of lacey p -- the
naacp. mr. anderson: right. a thing i need to point out is the interim between when the body was discovered. the body was so badly beaten, and between the beating and, of course, being in the river for a few days, it was pretty much beyond recognition and it was a horrifying sight. the mother was able to identify him, she looked him over closely, and her argument was that a mother knows her son. i think the steps really true. when she saw the body, she said there is no way she could explain what i'm seeing. the world needs to see what i'm saying. she insisted on the open casket funeral. tens and tens of people went by the body and they saw it first hand, reacting emotionally. if you see the film footage,
people were fainting and becoming emotional at seeing the 14-year-old boy brutally murdered. but also the press -- david jackson and simeon booker, still just retired a decade ago -- they went to the funeral home. they took photos. they were published in "jet" magazine and the black press, "the chicago defender." other papers. everybody was seeing that. so, now, this created so much publicity and that is why so many reporters descended upon sumner, mississippi, the county seat, for this trial. mr. kemper: and famous reporters. dan wakefield, from "the nation" and the west point daily news. mr. anderson: yeah, they were
all there. wakefield is still living there and, hopefully, reading this. i interviewed several of the reporters who are still alive. >> there is a big question about whether mobley will come down for the trial and congressman diggs, an african-american congressman, weighs in. it is a huge national event, this trial. >> international press covered it and -- >> these guys, they have
essentially admitted they were kidnappers and they are put on trial. how did the trial come out and how could it have possibly come out that they would be found not guilty? mr. anderson: they were charged with kidnapping and murder, but the murder trial occurred in september 1955. so they were considering murder. the defense argument was that too badlyas decomposed, too badly beaten into religion fight. here is the interesting thing. when the body was discovered on august 31, -- there were two counties involved, leflore county and tallahassee county -- the sheriff, when he saw the body, the morning was found said , that it looked at the body of a black person and they brought the body to a black undertaker, with segregation, even in death. he said the body looks like it'd been in the river for two days
and he used a pencil to go into the skull to see how deep the hole was. it looked like he had either done from a bullet or an axe. comeay his skull had apart, it looked like someone might have taken an ax on top of his head and come down. by the time of the trial the , sheriff changed his mind, by the time of the trial, at the burial. suddenly he said he didn't know , if it was black or white. he said, it came out of the river, it was as white as i am. he said that he only knew it was a human being and that he thought that emmett till was still alive and that this was a hoax. mr. kemper: a hoax perpetrated by the naacp. mr. anderson: so, here is where they come into these story. mississippi being fed these lines. of course, they didn't like the naacp and this just cemented their hate for the naacp.
so, the sheriff comes up with the story on the tuesday, the day that he was buried. and later he says, at the trial, that he had investigated other missing person cases and it that she was thinking it must've been one of them. it wasn't emmett till. it was interesting. he let the body stay buried in chicago. he did not want to exume the and return it to the south. how would they ever know who it was? it was such a scam, on his part. i don't think anybody really believed -- mr. kemper: you say that in the book. that nobody actually believed that. mr. anderson: the jurors did not, but it gave them a reason to vote as they did. the testimony was two and a half days. they had to be careful selecting
a jury. they had to weed out -- mr. kemper: they were very careful. an all-white jury, of course. mr. anderson: no woman could serve on the jury. there was not a black registered voter in tallahassee county. and it was a jury of 12 white men. the jury pool was 120 men and it came down to these 12. testimony started on the wednesday. the trial began on monday. testimony begins on wednesday. the prosecution took a day and a half to present their witnesses, toses write -- moses wrigh being the star witness. testified. they testified that these men came into the house and emmett till's mother testified. one way they were able to identify him was because of a ring on his finger that have been passed down to him from his father, who was dead. he was known to wear this ring. his cousin saw him wearing it in
mississippi. and when the body was retrieved, this ring with his father's initials was still on his fingers. those another way they were able to identify him. the defense argued that they put the ring on another body and put the body in the river. this was the defense argument. they only made it in closing arguments. they didn't present this during the trial. they only presented it in closing arguments, a terrible thing to suddenly do, without allowing any sort of cross examination on that point. also the sheriff testified that , he didn't think the body was emmett till, but nobody else testified said that they thought it was a hoax. mr. kemper: a southern editor pointed out, it was pretty remarkable to find somebody with the same ring size as emmett till's body that quickly. mr. anderson: exactly. none of that made any sense, but allowed the jury something to cling to.
on the on the fifth day of the friday, trial, the jury deliberated for about an hour and québec with a verdict of not guilty and the men were set free. during the testimony, the sheriff testified that the men admitted to kidnapping him and the defense argued, did you read them their rights? or you talking to them as a friend or as a sheriff? you knew these men from the local community. and the sheriff said, i think, yeah, i guess i'm a friend. it didn't matter that he had this confession. it was how he got it. were you talking as a sheriff or a friend? if you are a friend, it is ok to admit to kidnapping. it was really bizarre. so, the kidnapping part seemed open and shut. the murder part, they argued it was circumstantial because they didn't see the men with the body , no one saw him killed, all of this stuff.
mr. kemper: but as you point out, they did not exhume the body, so there was no forensic evidence around that, which seems fairly deliberate on their part. a little over an hour and they come back with the verdict. the kidnapping, that trial happens a little later. mr. anderson: yeah, that was november. mr. kemper: how do they justify that? mr. anderson: it is interesting. everybody was really shocked that they were indicted. in mississippi at the time, nobody was really brought on charges for these rice -- for these race crimes. rarely indicted. they were acquitted there and then went back to jail. they got out on bail a week later. then in november of 55, this is a month and a half after the murder trial ended, the grand jury in leflore county met to discuss the kidnapping charges. this time, after meeting the
grand jury, they returned with no true bill, they decided not even to indict them. and here is where they had the confession. and the grand jury and the sheriff of leflore county again testified these men admitted to kidnapping emmett till and the testified fort the grand jury, and so did another man, and the grand jury didn't even indict them on something that should be open and shut. there was nothing circumstantial about the case. but they were released, and the men were never again connected to this in any official way and there was no further attempt to prosecute them at all. mr. kemper: so it would seem to , be the end of the story, but it is 1955 and not the end of the story. you tell an interesting story about dr. howard, i think it is?
he goes to give a speech in montgomery and is a civil rights leader who is connected to the case. he is there with a young preacher named martin luther king. in the audience, a woman named rosa parks. connect that for us. they have the residents being inspiration. mr. anderson: right, and you really set the context for that -- the jury acquitted these men on this outrage throughout the september 23. country and overseas began.
there were protests rallies going on and several were sponsored by local labor unions. throughout the country and paris, the vatican responded in their official newspaper and we have this outrage. dr. hour,ember 27, the most militant civil rights leader mississippi of the time, very hated by the white south. he was a doctor and wealthy. he was black and an activist. but did not go over too well with the white community at the time. he was going around the country and speaking about the atrocities of the emmett till case. november 27, 1955 he speaks at , dexter avenue baptist church , where martin luther king has been minister for about a year
and he gives this powerful -- right in the midst of all of these rallies going on all over -- but he comes to montgomery, martin luther king is there. theives the prayer, invocation, the benediction. and also rosa parks is in the crowd. years later -- when she was interviewed for "eyes on ," she talked about remembering it. four days later, she refused to give up her seat on the bus. that began the montgomery bus boycott. and the mother of emmett till, at her funeral, a statement was read, saying maybe mobley's courage has helped others act, including others. we have the direct quote of her talking retrospectively about how the case moved her. she couldn't have helped but
been moved by the atmosphere and she is moved after dr. howard spoke. so, this is an interesting connection and hard not to make the connection. there was a lot in place with the brown decision to energize people. there was an immediate backlash that causes war to escalate, and so many ways. you have someone come along and there is a connection between a black man and a white woman. as innocent as this flirtation was, a whistle, everybody's mind back then was segregation being challenged, the supreme court
weighing on this. the division couldn't have been any stronger or greater. his timing in the delta could not have been worse. lynchingsbeen two just before he was lynched. the first ones reported, anyway, in three years, and it was all after the brown decision. things were in place to create the emmett till situation, which creates the outrage and the -- and creates the action we saw with rosa parks. you can really connect the dots. there is a national reaction to this and you have this great passage from william faulkner. right now we will find out whether we will survive or not. perhaps this is to prove to us whether or not we deserve to
survive." that is pretty extraordinary and you mentioned as for pound, part -- ezra pound, part of his cantos are about emmett till and james baldwin wrote blues for ,"- "blues for mr. charlie partly based on emmett till. it falls apart over controversy over money and she goes to be a schoolteacher and gets a degree in education. she goes to be a schoolteacher. it is not forgotten. there is a "look" magazine story by a journalist, william bradford, but it slowly leaves the consciousness of the country and other things happen.
other major civil rights events happen. then all of a sudden, the 1980's and the 1990's, it becomes a thing again, with the eyes on the prize and film-makers making documentaries. why does it go away, and why does it come back? that was really interesting. i've wondered about that a lot. after the acquittal and after these protest rallies died out, there was an article that came january 1956, with the montgomery bus boycott going on for a little over a month. all of a sudden, this story breaks where a reporter says he -- the headline is he has got the full story behind what happened with emmett till. you read the story with these
first" from -- firsthand quotes mylen, and everybody is wondering if the men confessed to this or if they told their story or made up a story for money. he has these quotes, but will not say that he talked to the men. he leaves it for everybody to read and see. newspapers, you know, i got those and i talk about those. he went through an elaborate thing to get these men to talk to him. they do and he pays them. the article comes out. as we know, and i got a friend here tonight, dave, who has written on this. this should not be seen as a confession for several reasons. we know he talked to these men, but they were protecting other people who were involved in the case and they claimed to have done everything and had no help.
the story was not factual and it wasn't based on anything factual. whether it is the story that was told to him or the lawyers or if huey made things up, we don't know. did do was give people a reason to say, ok these men admitted to killing emmett till. the south that were defending him, the people in the south, they were fine with defending him as long as they didn't hear anything to confirm to sustain that they knew that he had killed him. they knew, but they did not want to hear it. for a magazine article as bad as , it was, they had something to point to, and ones that came out, everybody just closed down. nobody wanted to talk about this again. 19 56. and then go to 1965, the seventh anniversary of the murder, everyone started talking about it.
the newspapers tracked down roy bryant and he interviews roy bryant and chases him out of the store. in chicago, a local man who worked for the news did a half hour story where he also interviews roy bryant and chases him out of the store. he got that on tape. also there is this moment in the late 80's -- 1980's, early 1990's where all of a sudden cold cases -- and there are movies about this, tv movies and feature movies, and with bobby frank probably killed, and bobby frank cherry, who was involved in killing the little girls in the church -- they are all of a sudden tried. there is this rise up, we are going to go back, and we are going to do justice by them. why did that happen? there were a few
things that kind of came together. the stuff with emmett till was interesting, looking at this historic case and wanting more answers. evers --989, the maker medgar evers case reopens, and he had been tried twice in 1964, but he was never acquitted. it was a hung jury. they gave up on trying a third time, but because he was not acquitted, he could always be tried again. more evidence comes out that the sovereignty commission had been working and doing jury tampering and things like that. that ignited a spark and he was retried finally in 1994 and convicted. and after that case reopened, they, emmett till's mother called them. we can go back decades earlier and look at his case. there are several reasons people are still alive that can attest to involvement. she wasn't so much worried about
wanting -- she told me this. i didn't care so much about putting someone in jail. beanted the knowledge, just injustice of this trial and letting this man go free. i wanted an apology. she would have been happy with that. so the medger evers case gave a lot of hope. and when that man was convicted, seems like a long shot, two trials, the third one convicted, he gave a lot of people hope there were so many cold cases . , people still living who everyone you got away with murder. of course the started a whole slew of -- >> and here now your career, your interest in the conversations with maybe till sykes, who ised
also getting to know through a set of circumstances the steve harvey case. it turns out steve harvey's wife , so heted to the till's starts to have a relationship with maybe. all of a sudden there is this notion that maybe the till case can be revived. >> right. and alvin approached this with so much passion and so much hope , and you see that steve harvey case, the till case parallel each other up to a point. there was this a brutal murder, there is a trial, and there is an acquittal in both cases. steve harvey, what can be done now? the emmett till case, in the 1950's, part of the message from the protest rallies was, we want to try this on a federal level. can the federal government step in and do something? j. edgar hoover said the civil
rights statute wasn't that strong. they did not go across state lines. they had reasons for not pursuing it. that is where you see the four in the road where alvin pursued the federal part and of course the rest is history. which is what everyone wanted to see happen with emmett till. so these two paralleled each other. in the end, the tragedy is that someone was brutally senselessly , killed. you can't bring them back. that cause for tragedy lasts, the pain. you see the difference between what happened with emmett till and what happened with the steve harvey case. justice changes things. it helps. >> partly through alvin's work and a number of the young people you write about in the book, there is a federalization, if you will, of these cold cases. has, under j edgar hoover, declined. they may have had reasons at the
time not good reasons, but , some good reasons, for not getting involved in the 1950's. all of a sudden in part because alvin points to an opinion written as the assistant attorney general by antonin scalia, interestingly enough, the federal government does have a legitimate interest in some of it these cases. so all of a sudden, leading to the federal government to go after the justice department, to go after these cold cases. and it leads to the body the , buried body of emmett till becomes a subject a day -- again. the exhumation becomes a subject again and a controversial one, , not just for the people of mississippi want to raise the issue again, but for the civil rights community whether you
should exhume the body. >> even the till family was divided. there are others who said it needs to happen. verysse jackson's son publicly went with the site that did not want it. but ultimately it was. his body was exhumed, and the identity question was put to rest. >> right, and that was so important because half the time the trial, could you imagine the defense trying to make the same arguments, we don't even know if this was emmett till who was buried. as painful as that was, and i understand the family's pain and why not to disturb the remains, but to be able to use our current technology to advance testing,e to do dna not only to prove definitively that the body was emmett till , but there were more answers as to the condition of the body,
discovered there were other broken bones in his wrist had -- and his legs were broken. the beating was more severe. we learned about his face and head, but we learned more about what he went through. >> the kind of gun that the bullet came from. real forensic evidence. >> mylan's gun, it was my lens gun. >> he did die of a bullet wound. so sheriff strider was wrong on everything. and that was important to learn that. so that investigation, although it did not result in a trial, bryantd focus on carolyn and a possible manslaughter charge. but the grand jury did not not indict, but so much came out and it was worth every penny. we learned not all the truth, but we learned a lot of it. we learned the murder trial transcript had been missing for
decades, you know, really the whole time, 50 years pretty much. found a copy of that. found the murder weapon, know what happened to emmett till. we knew before, but now nobody could ever make that argument again. a lot of truth, a lot of facts. it was definitely worth it. i hope the people who were skeptical about that who didn't want to put the funds into this realized that the truth has set us free a little bit more than we were. >> that seems to be the power of your book. because ultimately, the ultimate justice is the truth. you cannot bring emmett till back. there is no way to bring him back. they panel a jury. it was a grand jury, i can't remember, to look at the new evidence from the exhibition. -- x him -- exhumation.
all of the interviews done over the years, and it was a mixed jury, black and white. they unanimously agreed that they could not indict or convict carolyn bryant or anyone else. and you quote alvin on this, and you almost have a superhuman sense of truth that alvin has. if the evidence is there, will -- we will go forward with it, meaning the prosecutors who was an african-american woman, joyce giles, you describe her as a very admirable. in -- person. if it is not -- it wasn't just to appease political considerations of people who wish her to do so. there is a sense in that in which the justice it is not in this conviction. the justice is in the truth and getting to the truth. >> yes.
i received emails and phone calls from people over the years just angry that carolyn bryant isn't rotting in prison right now. she is still alive. >> she is still alive. >> angry. and i definitely believe that anybody involved in this, the age and circumstances should not allow them to get off on murder. ever. i don't think anyone should ever be rewarded if they defeat the system for years and years to get reported -- rewarded for that. you don't die free when the evidence is there. at the same time, what alvin was saying, to go out and feel like someone has to pay, someone has to be the symbol that pays for all these other people who got away, that isn't right either. the evidence is there by all means. i would not hold back. i would feel sorry to his agree. if the evidence was there, by all means, but it is not there
and you can't just go out and do it. alvin had a good head on his shoulders about all this. he was not just out for blood. he was out for justice, and he was willing to set the outcome. that was a great outcome for everybody to view this that way. that is really the meeting of justice. if we just go after people to make them pay a price, we're kind of like the people who randomly kill somebody, and we can't just randomly put someone in jail either as a symbol. >> have one point you quote -- at one point you quote emmett till later in life as some of this stuff comes forward again, and she says i don't want to deal with this out of hate. i want to deal with this out of love. and you quote her in this spirit. before we finish, i want to ask you about the movie. you are making a movie with will smith and jay-z and casey
affleck. some of us want to be in on it. i want to start out by asking who is playing alvin in the movie. i am thinking maybe dens l. -- denzel. how did you come about this movie from the beginning? >> the book was auctioned by serendipity film group in l.a., and right away they were able to work with, interview casey affleck, ben affleck's brother. he formed a film production company in and became 2014 immediately interested in this. so after they auctioned the book, then the film company and casey affleck, affleck milton group, signed on to make a the ethical film of that -- theatrical film of this. at the same time, jay-z and will smith decided they would do this miniseries for hbo, and it was
an independent project from ours. and several months into this, after casey affleck's company has signed on, jay-z's people and hbo approached our people and said, you know how would you , like to work together on this? they would like to have the book to base it on, so then there were several months of negotiation to put these groups together. that was finalized. so now, everybody is working together and doing the hbo miniseries. they wanted six episodes, and they hired a writer named steve coppell jr. who had a very, who received a lot of praise at the sundance film festival for his film the land, which i have not seen yet because it has not come to salt lake city, but it is set in cleveland, and he is playing in theaters on a limited basis from what i understand. there is a lot of acclaim for his film. so hbo approached him and
some others. he was the one that one out. -- won out. he got the contract. steve coppell is writing the script and busy on it. as far as the cast, it is still early. [indiscernible] i guess i can put in a good word for denzel. >> but yeah i don't know. ,he has got -- the nice thing about doing it this way instead of a film is you have two hours, and a mini series you have six to eight hours. you can really tell the story in full, and i'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with. i am excited, and hbo is really excited about this. they are committed. everybody is committed to doing this and doing it right and really having an impact. tell theill not just
story of emmett till and the case as it has -- emmett till and the case as how it has developed over the years. it will all be part of that. >> i don't want to put words in the writer's mouse. that would be irresponsible of me. but i think he has got a lot to work with, and it makes sense that all of that would be covered. >> i think your story and alvin's story is extraordinary. tom coburn, who we had on this stage a year and a half ago with alvin said on the senate floor about alvin, he is what about america -- what america is all about. i think that we bow a debt of gratitude to work on the truth . we owe alvin a debt of gratitude continuing to work on the truth on what this country sometimes does not live up to and should live up to that truth about justice.
you are guiding the conscience. [applause] >> and i want to turn this over to questions for devery. i do want to tell everyone that alvin and devery is involved in this too, he continues to work as he said in his introduction on reauthorization of the emmett till bill which creates the cold case section in the civil rights department and justice department and continues to pursue the truth and when possible justice in all of these cases. we can see public libraries supporting alvin in that financially and personally. [applause] >> i will translate that. send checks. [laughter] >> so now, if you would like to
ask questions of devery and alvin, and moores here. youuld like to open up to the audience. ,we have these microphones up front, if you would like to come up. >> how're you doing? thanks for coming. i just want to know -- and i know you kind of wrote a little bit about it -- just getting to the death of emmett and his family, how did that change your life, your perspective on the racism and that divide? >> that is a good one because on so many levels, for me personally, on a first started with the case, it was a historical event in my mind. once i made the connection to family, it became so personal that it was hard to separate that. with the right balance and hopefully, that is how it came
out, but i was trying to wear my historians's hat. --ave a human being and has i am a human being and have strong feelings on this. when i learned about mobley, she did not let hate consumer. has she done that, she would have been similar to ryan and mylan. living in bitterness and anger, which is what they did. p outperforming them,am forming the emmett till players , and taught youth. the emmett till players was a group that performed throughout the country. shelost her only child, but gave children of the world hope. she turned a negative to a positive, and you live with that pain forever, but you can turn it into a positive, to some degree. and well, to a large degree if you are willing to go out there and change the world. she was determined her son not
die in vain. that is why she took the direction she did, and that is true. till case ismmett anytimehis name emerges there is any kind of racial killing these days, it is always compared to emmett till. he comes up all the time. we have got that connection now with our past to ask ourselves how much have we really learned? it is what i thought about, how much have we learned? when i went to mississippi, i see people who lived with his painful period of our past. some people are embracing it. others saying, that is in the past, we cannot deal with it. i am seeing various responses. that brings us to the present in a bad way because they will not deal with it or in a good way because they are trying to achieve reconciliation.
i have seen the best of us and the worst. i have seen that both in mississippi. pockets of mississippi have really come forward to teach the rest of us and set examples for the rest of us. i have learned things that surprised me and things that still lie, it is still 1955. i have seen both. it tells me where we can go if we are determined. >> another question here. >> i was hoping i could ask you to expand on something you mentioned briefly. i was always surprised that a soe that was so big and sensational in so many ways could be in the public mind and psyche and then just go away so much. i grew up in the 1960's, and this thing just went away. i remember when i found out about emmett till and i thought, why didn't i already know about this? it is something in the way we
behave collectively. it was something like a parallel that this was the spanish flu epidemic where you can't underestimate how big that was, somewhere between 40 million and 100 million people died, then for some reason, everyone stops talking about it for the longest time. ask someone you know now, and unless they have been watching pbs, they will not know much about it. i have always been surprised that this wasn't bigger. that this did not stay in the public mind, and why that wasn't just seemed to me to be something really negative in the way that something so spectacularly horrible and remembern -- and i do the first time i saw the pictures. they are so perfect to look at the pictures of emmett till's body. how did this go away?
i just do not get it. do you have any speculation on that? >> with the magazine came out, it seemed there was a case of collective guilt that it was just too hard to deal with. that sounds simple, we don't want to talk about that, but it went away partly because of that and also the civil rights movement, starting with montgomery and all the stuff, the news really shifted to the events where people were taking action for trying to to remedy all of the stuff that happened up until emmett till entering of course as well. the news shifted to the activists instead of the unintended murders like an emmett till's case. elsewhere, i would interview the emmett's cousins, i interviewed simeon wright and parker, i asked them about once
this died down and you left the south for chicago, the right family did, the parkers were already there, he said after the trial, we never brought it up again. not to each other, not to moseley, not to mamie. i said, you literally did not bring it up. they said, never. and they weren't even sought out by the press again for until 1985. they were sought out for the first time in 30 years. people didn't talk about it, for different reasons. there was the pain of the family, the collective guilt of the south, the nation at large moved on and was watching other events unfold. and the people involved emmett , till's mother, she did not stay on the national stage. she chose to live out for a while as a schoolteacher, was known locally to an extent. she would speak at church. moses wright became a janitor at a club in chicago after speaking
for the enzi -- naacp, suddenly he is a janitor for the rest of his life. nobody in the emmett till case trying to be an activist or stay involved in the public. the people involved went back in the background, and that is how it shaped stories. it is interesting, i was talking to someone upstairs earlier. early on, the only people who were talking about it was artists. bob dylan had his famous song , there were a lot of plays that were produced blues for mr. , charlie. rod sterling did an episode for playhouse 90. he tried to sell it here, is that you to tone it down where there was hardly any resemblance. artists were trying to talk about it. the sellers did not pick it up or a long time. the artistic community could not let it go for some time. others, just not enough time to
affect them properly i guess, and the news again just shifted elsewhere. it was a number of things i think. >> yeah it was talked about. , i run a point years ago about what my mother told me. but those trips that we took down south, i was of age and a -- at that time, and i was going to get on a bus the same time this happened. i started riding the bus by myself and the trains going to port ice, arkansas. my mother would put a little label that says coleman, fordyce. missouri toi got to get to the back of the bus to finish the trip to arkansas.
experience in the black community changed the fabric within the young men on how they act, what they looked at. [applause] >> we felt everything for years and years and years. that is why i went away, because i still took that trip at eight years old, nine years old, 10, years old, all the way until i was 14 by myself. going down south. so we dare not talk about it, we dare not look her in the face, we dare not stutter or whisper. that was one of the other things with emmett till. they said that emmett till had a stutter and that it wasn't a whistle, but a stutter. but that just comes down from talk. but yes, these those trips were , to keep us straight. you go home to visit grandma,
and you go down there, and you do real work. that is what emmett went to do, and he went to spend his little money at a little grocery store, and ended up dead because of society. something out there in america. no, it was talked about, it is still talked about, and is going to be talked about in our community, in a sense, it will be talked about forever and ever, amen. [applause] >> can i just clarify can i , clarify something really quick? when i say it wasn't talked about, i am talking about historians in the news publicly, but i have had a lot of people telling me the same things. people in missouri had relatives in the south. if they were in chicago, the usually had alleges in the south that had -- relatives in the south that had moved there with
the great migration. i had someone tell me her mother would not let her go back to the south after this. a lot of young men are upset. i will not let you go visit your relatives because what happened to emmett till could happen to you. those experiences, people that want by the casket, people i interviewed 50 years afterwards told me i would never forget that, and it scared us to death. it's changed us and we were never the same after that. so yet at that level, definitely, it is still talked about. but a lot of people never learned about it, because there was nothing public. people in shock auto -- in chicago and mississippi, i don't know how that was possible, but that was partly because people weren't discussing it. >> he said most of what i was going to say about different communities -- >> can you step closer? >> different communities.
but my other question to you is the heart ofk that hesitation, to have her son's body exhumed. was this for her to get her son exhumed and brought to chicago? did she talk about that and that process that she went through to get him back, to get his body back? >> when you about the hesitation of exhuming -- ok, she had already passed away by then. she told me once she was planning, she wanted to move his grave from the cemetery to another place. she was willing to have him exhumed for that reason. she even told me that she wanted to look at him if they ever exhumed his body, because she wanted to be able to see him again. but that was before they were going to exhume it for an autopsy. >> she was alive when they started those conversations about that, though. >> right, and i don't know.
maybe alvin can discuss that briefly. she was anticipating that as having to happen as part of an investigation. and i imagine she had thought about that. but it was other family members who, after the exhumation was announced, that family members , cousins were adamant that he , wouldn't be exhumed. this is after the investigation was started and the announcement made they were going to exhume the body. >> because that was very often overlooked. >> and back then, even, there was some rumors that the body was going to be exhumed, and maimie said no. , and 55 months afterwards when there was talk about the body being exhumed, there was some rumors where she heard they were about to exhume his body for an investigation and she said no, then. but it has been a few months after that death. but she said i don't need any further proof it is him, let him rest in peace.
for her sake, she didn't need it at all. >> thank you for going back and talking about how horrific the crime was to emmett. you know he wasn't just thrown in a river. >> right, there was a lot of suffering, incredibly brutal, beyond anything i could imagine. >> my question from an education standpoint, do you see looking took 30this today, it years before it was brought to consciousness. is it different in how it was handled in the south in terms of other parts of the country's in the curriculum of schools? >> i have heard from people who are now in their early 30's who say it was never discussed when they were growing up. and i don't know if that has changed since then. i don't know like today in school how much information it is giving. in tallahassee county, there is a lot that reminds people of the
till murder on a daily basis. there is a marker in front of the courthouse that talks about the trial and the injustice, so people are forced to kind of deal with that every day. highway 49, between greenwood think --eston i clarkdale, has now been named emmett till memorial highway. people who commute there are reminded of it every day. people know about it now. i think the fear before was that a lot of people didn't know about it, so why bring it up? they don't have that to deal with anymore. there is no teaching that, and i can only assume it is much better than it was, but i imagine students would tell me today they are not really hearing about it at the level that they should, teachers. but i can't really answer that for sure unfortunately. yes, sir. >> i would just like to say that
emmett till was just one of the murders that happened to get made famous. i was born in 1955. i have been around the black neighborhood where you can hear people talk about different types of situations as this, back in the days. one of the reasons with a white america, they think not a lot of people talk about it is because the same ones that got the job to protect the blacks in those days were the ones that were involved in some of these. that is part of the reason you don't hear much conversation. and i know i know emmett till's -- family is probably the same way. you have people who going to come out and do the same thing to them. see nowadays young folks can't , understand why some of those things was going on. police officers, judges, doctors, lawyers, were the same ones running around in the white
sheets you know that you had back in those days. nowadays young folk don't have any connection with that. but i 61, and if you go to am family reunions and whatnot around black neighborhoods, if you hear older folks talking about they ran out of louisiana, mississippi, arkansas, because that was just major leaving out of town. let is the way it was back in those days. young people don't understand that. but i'm i am old enough to know 61. that. now you have to know we have a better voice for black america. but there was a lot -- i imagine you probably ran into a lot of emmett till folks who are not going to talk, because white folks in the neighborhood are going to come back in retaliation. >> i did hear that, and that has been their experience, and that's unfortunate that it has to be the case. >> we will do two or three more
questions. >> ok. i am 71 years old, and i was born in tennessee. i was 10 years old when emmett till was killed. and we were told, you know, shaking and trembling by our teachers, our ministers be very , careful. if you have not learned well how to keep your head down. so we work reeducated once emmett till was killed to be more careful. five years later, a neighborhood kid named charles porter, 16 years old, was shot eight times in front of a white neighborhood. nobody nobody was punished. , a young lady, martha lang, 15
years old, was punctured every way that you could puncture a person, and left with a stocking around her neck. 15 years old. these are my neighborhood kids, lived in the neighborhood with me. we were being taught, over and over again, there is no justice. everybody knew who killed charles porter. shot right in front of the man's house. he claimed he shouldn't have been there, just that simple. martha lang was shot coming home from the place where we work in white women's homes. my cousin and i left early, she left later. and she got caught. it was curfew, 9:00. and even though she had been killed, those boys got a hold of her. we know all eight boys that did this to her, and no one has ever
gone to jail for a. that is the way the south was teaching us to keep our heads down and be quiet. >> thank you. [applause] >> the emmett till tragedy, as it plays out in 2016, is a lesson that we have not learned. we still have a symbolic black males being murdered, and nobody not -- black lives not mattering. you a symbol. he is symbolic. i still walk home, and when lights, on behind me, i have got to know whether to fight or flight, whether i am going to be strapped or ready to die.
emmett till, my life and society. and this is 2016, and after the week, we seet something crazy happening. where are the people of courage? we are the people of god who should be standing up to the ugly. that is an ugly tragedy. mamie, by the time she talked to my brother alvin sykes, how many years have been passed, and they just want to bury it? where were we as people are we , human beings? look at tragedies like this and say, must stop. our courage must stand up to evil. and in the dog days we are about to go through, it is the same type of ugly, evil spirits.
i don't know, when you talk evil, when you are negative, when you are down on each other, when i can't lift you up as another human being, we are going down a path to an ugly incident like emmett till happens on a late night. and i am just wondering, you know, i 68. emmett, can i die and have some justice? or must i worry about my son, just because he is black? running into injustices just because people -- we have a social contract. we also in this room tonight, we treat each other, we have a contract. when will the contract protect all people, and not let ugly, mean-spirited feelings take control? until emmett till, it keeps
coming back, it will go away. it is not just a tragedy that happened, but it is us, how we responded, how we didn't respond to tragedy and keeps happening. we see it happening again. thank you. [applause] >> thank you so much for setting -- shutting -- shedding light on such an important topic in humanity. we all need to stand up and get up and fight every single day, but my question to you is, do you, when you were writing the book, did you have people in the south in mind as them reading it? did you have a narrative in mind? or were you trying to keep it completely objective?
>> well, i was trying to stay of course, stay objective to really achieve that. i think it is an impossibility . you can do your best. i just wanted to get the facts as i find them. part of the reason this book took so long as i was trying to tell the whole story, and i was trying to get it right. there are so many myths about it, and what did or didn't happen at the store with the whistle. i wanted to go back as early as i could and see what people said about this early on. my main thing was to tell the facts. i knew some people would be upset with what i said. people on who are sympathetic to , emmett till might be upset about certain things. you know, i talked about some of the problems with the naacp and mother.emmett's
it was hard to talk about but couldn't be ignored. i wanted to get the facts out there, knowing people in the south and north would like it and feel like it was time, and that those people in those same places might be upset or uncomfortable with certain things. i tried to interview people everybody, people on the sides , of the killers' families as well. i was able to get a few, and they didn't talk -- they would not let me put their name in the book. i was able to quote them and talk about what they told me, about their family members, and so i was able to finally do that , and i knew that would make people uncomfortable as well especially -- or if i tried to show a human side to carolyn bryant, that was going to upset people as well. so i do i had to upset everybody and make everybody happy, and when you have done that you have , done your job. as long as everyone is upset and happy at the same degree you , have done your job.
that is how i approached it. >> i would like to reiterate one of the things that the lady said. she said she went to school in tennessee, but one thing that you younger people don't think about is she went to a black school, because it was when we couldn't go to school with you. ok, we knew about everything in black history because our black history kind of expanded between a week and as long as the teachers want to tell us about the particular situations that we were going to have to face. i think you for bringing emmett till to the attention of a lot of people, but i 77. amthat happened when i was in the eighth or ninth grade. so i have lived with that all my life. so i have, i have been listening to some music. there is music that says, i wish i knew how it would feel to be
free. i think that is the wish of every black person in this room tonight. [applause] >> first of all, i want to thank you for bringing this story back to mind. it was something my folks taught me when i was young when they taught me how to behave. i also know that when movies come out there is something in the movie that is not in the book. i have to ask you, is there something you wish you would have put in the book that we are going to see for the first time in the movie? because i don't want to be surprised -- [laughter] >> maybe you can give us a heads up. >> something that is not in the book that i hope to see in the movie? >> we know there is something, so go ahead. [laughter] >> i will have to get back to you on that one. do you have any mail address? e-mailmale address -- an
address? i can't really think of anything. i don't know. i am trying to think of something that either i left out or wish i would have put in there that will now have to be in their, and there are a couple of things. i honestly cap -- can't think right offhand. if anything, i tried to develop emmett's relationship with his mother in that first chapter. maybe there is more to be said to really, because i wanted people to see that when he went to mississippi, the case did not begin with his incident at the store. he had 14 years on this earth of being a mother's son who is beloved by her, and a human being who had dreams and hopes and all of that.
that gets overlooked too much. everything everyone tells the , story of the wolf whistle and then the murder. emmett becomes known in death but he is not known in life. to really emphasize that this black life mattered, we have to understand his life. even though he was an obscure person that maybe no one out of his inner circle would have known him if he died -- had not died, that does not matter. because of his life, everybody's life is valuable. for so long, the reason we have to talk about black lives matter, and people are upset by that, but we just end -- add the word too to the end of that. black lives matter, too. that changes everything. it shows that they haven't been valued, and it is time that they are. that is what people are trying to say. i would probably want to maybe, if i could flesh that out a little bit better, to emphasize
you talk about the tragedy of his death when you understand the value of his life. i would probably want to flesh that out more if i could. [applause] >> i guess that is one of the great things in the book is that he does actually, live. you talk about his sense of humor and what a prankster he was. he becomes an interesting person in which the values of life is really revealed. >> and the movie will show that. even though it will be an actor. the vision of his casket told us more than we could then just reading about it. and seeing it portrayed on film will hopefully do what this work in the book couldn't do. that will be up to them responsibly, and i hope they do. they will take over when i couldn't do because i was not making a movie. i was writing a book. toyes, sir, i would like know, what do you do to get a a
cold case reopened? is, where question are we with the extension of the emmett till bill? >> you have got to know alvin sykes. alvin would be the best to answer both of those. >> the second question first, where we are at with the reauthorization of the emmett till act. it is presently before congress. we expect as early as any day now for it to pass out of the united states congress. the bill will, as it is wrote now -- the original bill only dealt with racially motivated murders from 1969 back. the current reauthorization bill calls for the extension forward forever.
so that with any unsolved civil rights era murder, but any civil rights murder would, under its jurisdiction. we had the hurdle earlier this year where we first got it passed in the senate, and then it came to the house, and they wanted to make some changes. the irony of the election result made it a lot stronger for the belief that the bill would get passed. we are in active negotiations right now. yesterday was the beginning of the lame-duck session. we fully expect it to pass during the lame-duck session. as far as what it takes to get a case reopened, you have to have to have a lead, a pursuit of first truth. you have to have dialogue, and you have to be able to communicate with law enforcement and others and by way of
evidence to bring forward to them. and one to know whatever the real truth is in the particular matter. so if you do have any unsolved , and you can reach agreement with me, i will certainly talk to you about it. but once the bill passes, there will be a stronger infrastructure in place for unsolved racially motivated murders, and people would be able to come forward with this easier. [applause] >> i have a question about the judicial process. so why was the guy not convicted in first trial, and why it take two more? why did emmett till family did not build a strong case? it was a failure of court? >> i'm sorry, i didn't catch --
my question is about the judicial process. like why he was not convicted in the first trial, and why it takes so long. this was like, what was the reason first time? emmett till's family does not make a strong case, or judicial --? >> why was there a acquittal. while the defense -- first of all, it was and always jury. and it was a case that involved breaking a taboo. the defense was able to turn this into, to characterize it, as an attempted rape. but any interaction like that between a white woman and a black man back then would have seen, it would have outraged
people whether it was a wolf whistle or a rape, and accused rape. that is what they saw. you had that going right away. for a jury to convict anybody in a case were there was something between a black man and a white woman, they would never rule in favor of the black man, or the benefit of the conviction of the man who killed him. he was the victim. they made the argument that the body wasn't emmett till's. yes, he was kidnapped and no one had seen him sense, and the ring is on his finger, but that is really not strong enough. nobody could place them even though they had to that testified they heard the beating going on in the shed, they -- where he ended up being killed. no one believed him. they dismissed his testimony. basically, it was circumstantial. there was no proof, and the jury saw there was not proof beyond a
reasonable doubt keep, even all of them said they knew it, but they had that legal thing to cling to. they did not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in their minds. basically, pretty simple. rate. [applause] >> yeah, the all-white jury would never convict a black being killed,d of because it boils down to the racist elements of that. that would never happen. last question. >> yes, my name is bernard love. i 67 years old. am this past weekend, i had the experience of a lifetime. i got to tour the national museum of african american history in washington dc. [applause] >> i like for everyone here to ask themselves what is our mindset? because all of us are here on
the backs and the shoulders of those that came before us, and we need to understand that emmet t, before emmett till, there were lynchings going on. that in public places. and there were no retributions. so i leave you with this thought. woodson theuld read , miseducation of the negro, and what they never told you in a history class. when we put these books back in the education system and start being responsible to our children, we will have a better america. our current president has tried to put in place some things. the new president is talking about abolishing those things. but until we get back into schools and put god back into the schools, we are going to have a problem. [applause]
>> ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here. the book is for sale around the corner here. and i am sure devery would be happy to sign it for you. alvin would be happy to sign it too. thank you devery. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer 1: this weekend, c-span cities tour, along with the spectrum and cox communication cable partners, will enjoy san diego. we will hear about how the u.s. navy built its presence in san diego from uss midway museum historian carl. >> she was a brand-new ship of a very large and new design, so the navy put her through the
paces even though the war had just concluded, and she made numerous deployments to the mediterranean through her career. in 1954, it was decided she needed to transfer to the madeic, so in 1955, she the epic voyage because she was too large to pass through the panama canal from norfolk, virginia across the length of the indian ocean and entering the pacific from the west. announcer 1: watch the c-span cities tour sunday at 2:00 p.m. on "american history tv" on c-span3. tonight on lectures in history, iowa state university professor tracy luke teaches a class on women journalists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries including nellie bly and or the decks -- dorothy dix.
term that is is a often used to denigrate what people like nellie bly did because she did not just make her way into an insane asylum. world.o went around the beatade it her mission to the fictitious character in jules verne's novel. she makes her position at the paper by saying, i will do this. i will go around the world. that becomes her story. she is traveling around the world. she is reporting back from where she is. readers are wondering if she will make it, if she will do it. nutsew york world goes with this. they create a board game saying
where will nellie bly go? she becomes a national celebrity. announcer 1: watch the entire program tonight at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern on lectures in history. "american history tv" only on c-span3. ♪ [applause] ♪ announcer 1: the presidential inauguration of donald trump is friday, january 20. c-span will have live coverage of the events and ceremonies. watch live on c-span and c-span.org and listen live on the free c-span radio app. ♪ coming up next on the presidency, talks about his book, "george
washington's 1791 southern tour." it's about an hour and 20 minutes. mr. shank: i want to welcome you all here this evening to this book talk. we have a great topic for tonight. the washington library is proud to offer three monthly book talks as part of our mission to disseminate knowledge about the colonial and founding eras. we also want to thank