Emmett Till was a 14 year old Chicagoan visiting his cousins in Money, Mississippi in 1955 when he was brutally murdered by white men for supposedly speaking to the 21 year old white wife of the proprietor of the general store. The murder sparked an international outcry. An historic marker now stands in front of the restored Bryant Grocery store. That is a rare occurrence. Officials admit they have allowed so many civil rights landmarks to be destroyed in Mississippi that they say they have lost count. By erasing the landmarks, the white southerners who deny their racist past can also deny the contemporary bigotry that still persists.
I had a US history named Thomas Govan in college. He was an old southerner from Louisiana teaching at the University of Oregon in the 70's. His courses on radical American history focused on the battles over workers rights and racism. We examined the establishment of the Klan, the rise of Jim Crow, the lynchings and the murders of men by white mobs for simply failing to comply with their racist rules.
Govan used to quote the Southern writer Robert Penn Warren who said, "History is the painful, powerful, grinding process by which ideas are assimilated by a society." He wished that it was the good ideas that persisted, but my professor knew that the bad ones, like the rotten notion of bigotry, also clung on, He believed only an honest, probing assessment of the past, remembering, could provide the path to change.
Emmett Till's murderers were brought to trial. It was covered by media from around the world. They were acquitted by an all-white jury. Because blacks could not vote, they could also not serve on juries. Studies done as recently as 2010 show that African-Americans are still being systematically excluded from juries in at least 8 southern states.
The killers went on to admit their guilt in a paid Life Magazine interview. Because of the doctrine of double jeopardy, they couldn't be re-tried.
Emmett Till's 1955 murder and the subsequent failure of the legal system is said to have helped jump start the American civil rights revolution.
The Tallahatchie County Courthouse where Till's murderers were tried and acquitted is being restored and will serve as a working courthouse and museum.