New Film Documents Mamie Till-Mobley’s Fight for Justice for Her 14-Year-Old Son, Emmett Louis Till

I remember learning about Emmett Till as early as third grade and then again, in about sixth grade.

Now, Whoopi Goldberg and Danielle Deadwyler will star in Chinonye Chukwu’s upcoming film “Till,” about Mamie Till-Mobley’s fight for justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Louis Till. All American star Jayln Hall has been cast to play the role of Emmett.

“Till” chronicles Mamie’s decision to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral and to allow Jet magazine publish David Jackson’s funeral photos, in order to ensure people everywhere saw the true horrors of her son’s murder. The decision from the grieving mother was a galvanizing moment that led to the creation of the civil rights movement.”

https://variety.com/2021/film/news/whoopi-goldberg-emmett-till-movie-danielle-deadwyler-1235026380/

Emmett Till was brutally murdered early on August 28, 1955, one month and three days after his 14th birthday, after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman. His mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, showed his body in an open casket so the whole world could see what they did to her son. “Let the world see what I’ve seen,” she said, which became a call-to-action after Jet Magazine published the photos.

Emmett Till was in Money, Mississippi, visiting his relatives when he encountered Mrs. Bryant at a store for the summer. There are multiple variations of what supposedly took place. I’ve been following the story of Emmett for a long time, and I’ve seen pretty much every documentary made of him.

Some people say he showed his cousins a picture of his school in Chicago, an integrated class, and bragged about how he would speak to that white woman. Other accounts claim he grabbed Bryant’s hand while she was stocking candy. “What’s the matter, baby,” he allegedly said, “can’t you take it?” The most infamous accusation is that he whistled at her.

None of these accusations are true, and in “The Blood of Emmett Till,” a book by Timothy Tyson, Carolyn Bryant admits she lied.

Days after the alleged incident, Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Emmett from his great uncle’s home and brutally murdered him. They then tied a cotton gin fan blade to his body with barbed wire and dumped him in the Tallahatchie River.

If you are familiar with the show, All American, you know Hall has a lisp, which could explain why he’s a good fit for the role outside of his acting skills. According to Mamie, Emmett had a speech impediment that made it impossible for him to have whistled at Carolyn.

Black Trauma

Whenever I post this kind of content, I get feedback from people saying I shouldn’t be talking about it. Some have even said they should not make the film.

I get it.

I understand the perpetuation of black trauma by the media, and I empathize with the fed-upness of black death.

I also want to acknowledge people who experience high sensitivity to these sorts of things. This post is in no way dismissive of that, and I understand if you can’t view these sorts of things.

But aside from this, consider the proverb, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”

If we do not tell our side of the story, our children will continue to receive a watered-down version of their history.

Memphis, TN, Wither’s Collection Museum. Photo by Yecheilyah Ysrayl, 2021. Used with permission.

Three months after his death, Rosa Parks communicated with Mamie Till that she thought about Emmett as she sat on that bus and refused to move. This resistance led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the opening of the floodgates for what we now know as The Civil Rights Movement.

But that is not the full story.

Rosa Parks was not some feeble old lady our childhood textbooks make her out to be, and she was not the only black woman who refused to give up her seat in defiance of segregation. Parks was 41 years young and was already working with Dr. King and served as secretary for the NAACP, where her husband, Raymond Parks, was already an active member.

Parks’ cemented her place in history, and I am sure she thought of Emmett, but she wasn’t an old lady. She was tired alright, but not physically.

“Parks wasn’t physically tired and was able to leave her seat. She refused, on principle, to surrender her seat because of her race.”

https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/rosa-parks-journey-as-a-civil-rights-icon

The NAACP was already organizing and looking for a test case about segregation on Montgomery’s bus system, but their first potential test case was pregnant and did not fit the image they wanted to represent the movement. The whole thing was carefully orchestrated in a campaign to end segregation on buses.

“They said they didn’t want to use a pregnant teenager because it would be controversial and the people would talk about the pregnancy more than the boycott.” – Colvin

This in no way dismisses Park’s historical actions (because planned or not, she didn’t have to do it) but seeks to shine a light on the other “Rosa’s” who also refused to give up their seat to support integration. We have forgotten the Claudette Colvin’s, Aurelia Browder’s, and Irene Morgan’s of the world because the writers of his-story never told their stories.

There is an entirely new generation of children who do not know the racist history of this (America) nation and how it is relatable to our current times. They can’t compare Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till because they don’t know who Emmett Till was. They can’t connect housing discrimination with Red Lining because they don’t know what Red Lining is. They can’t connect the crack epidemic of the 1980s with the Iran-Contra Affair because they don’t know history.

How did crack cocaine end up in black communities? How did it destroy black families?

As Furious Styles says in Boyz N The Hood, “How you think the crack rock gets into the country? We don’t own any planes. We don’t own no ships. We are not the people who are flyin’ and floatin’ that shit in here.”

Yes, he’s a fictional character, but a real black man (John Daniel Singleton) wrote the script.

“Why do you think there’s a liquor store on every corner? The same reason there’s a gun store on every corner. They want us to kill ourselves.” (Boyz N The Hood, 1991)

Do I think black people should be inundated with negativity and brutality, constantly subjected to the image of black men and women dying in the streets? Of course not. Black history is not only black trauma.

But no one tells the Jews to stop talking about the holocaust or Americans to stop talking about 9/11.

I believe that we encourage them to be forgotten by not retelling these stories. We can do this in various ways, not only through the display of horrific images on television.

Black women are putting this film together because they understand what it means to lose black sons, not only in 1955 but also in 2021.

I know black mothers don’t raise their sons to be murderers just as much as I know they don’t raise them to be murdered.

Jasmine Mans

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Willie James Howard

Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday.


Willie James Howard was born on July 13, 1928, in Live Oak Florida. At fifteen years old he was in the 10th grade and worked at the Van Priest Five and Dime Store downtown.

According to the story, Willie sent Christmas cards to employees of the store for the Christmas Holiday. One of the employees, a popular white girl named Cynthia, was offended by the gesture. According to the account (which has just as many variations as Emmett’s story), at the bottom of the card for Cynthia, Willie indicated the letter “L” for love.  Later, Willie wrote Cynthia a letter, this time apologizing. He signed this one with a little poem:

“I love your name. I love your voice, for a S.H (sweetheart) you are my choice.”

(Source of poem: Documentary Trailer https://vimeo.com/105289596)

On January 2, 1944, Cynthia’s father Phil Goff, who saw the letter (most likely by Cynthia showing it to him as some accounts suggest) and two of his friends arrived at Willie’s home and the three men dragged the boy from his mother’s arms. They also kidnapped his father. They drove to the Suwannee River and bound Willie James by his feet and hands and made him stand at the edge of the river where, according to his father’s testimony, he was told he could either jump into the river or be shot. The boy jumped in and drowned.

The Suwannee County sheriff ordered Ansel Brown, the local black undertaker, to retrieve the boy’s body from the river and bury it immediately. To cover up the incident, Phil and his friends forced Willie’s father to sign a document alleging that Willie jumped into the river on his own accord. According to their written statement which was included in the Lanier Report, the three men admitted taking the boy from his home and tying him up on the way to the river but they said he fell in accidentally. This conflicts with the first story that the boy jumped into the river. Either the boy jumped into the river on his own or he slipped accidentally. It was obvious the men were not telling the truth but there was never an arrest.

After signing the document, Willie’s father (also named James) packed up his family and moved to Orlando. No death certificate was ordered for his only son and the grave was unmarked for 60 years.

Thurgood Marshall demanded a full investigation and after hearing about Willie’s case, it was picked up by Harry T Moore of the NAACP who had gone to school with Lula Howard, Willie’s mother. Moore received documented proof from Willie’s parents explaining what really happened. They stated that Willie’s father had been threatened and forced to sign the document. However, a grand jury did not indict Goff and his friends and prosecution were never achieved.

Moore continued fighting for the case and in 1947 wanted to reopen it but Thurgood Marshall was unwilling to dedicate any more NAACP funding.

I found that Howard’s story mirrors that of Emmett Till’s in chilling ways. Though Emmett’s death was far more brutal, Willie is one of those unfamiliar faces we do not hear much about. Like Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, Emmett Till and Willie Howard are on the same side of History.

  • Willie James Howard was born in July (7/13)
  • Emmett Louis Till was born in July (7/25)
  • Willie was 15 years old when he died
  • Emmett was 14 years old when he died
  • Willie wrote a letter to a white girl
  • Emmett whistled at a white girl (allegedly)
  • Willie was taken from his home
  • Emmett was taken from his home
  • Willie died in the Suwannee River
  • Emmett ’s brutally beaten body was found weighed down by a cotton gin in the Tallahatchie River
  • Willie died in 1944
  • Emmett was only 3 years old when Willie was murdered. He would be killed exactly 10 years later in 1955.
  • Both boys murderers were acquitted

The similarities here are chilling so when you remember Emmett  Louis Till this August, remember Willie James Howard too.