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Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press

Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press

Davis W. Houck
Matthew A. Grindy
Foreword by Keith A. Beauchamp
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press
    Book Description:

    Employing never-before-used historical materials, the au-thors of Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press reveal how Mississippi journalists both expressed and shaped public opinion in the aftermath of the 1955 Emmett Till murder. Combing small-circulation weeklies as well as large-circulation dailies, Davis W. Houck and Matthew A. Grindy analyze the rhetoric at work as the state attempted to grapple with a brutal, small-town slaying. Initially coverage tended to be sympathetic to Till, but when the case became a clarion call for civil rights and racial justice in Mississippi, journa-lists reacted.

    Newspapers both reported on the Till investigation and editor-ialized on its protagonists. Within days the Till case transcended the specifics of a murder in the Delta. Coverage wrestled with such com-plex cultural matters as the role of the press, class, gender, and geography in the determination of guilt and innocence.

    Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press provides a careful examination of the courtroom testimony given in Sumner, Mississippi, and the trial\'s conclusion as reported by the state\'s newspapers. The book closes with an analysis of how Mississippi has attempted to come to terms with its racially troubled past by, in part, memorializing Emmett Till in and around the Delta.

    Davis W. Houck is associate professor of communication at Florida State University. He is the author of six books, including Rhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression and FDR and Fear Itself: The First Inaugural Address. Matthew A. Grindy is a doctoral candidate of communication at Florida State University. Keith A. Beauchamp, a filmmaker based in New York City, is the director of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-304-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Keith A. Beauchamp

    Knowledge is power and nowhere is that truer than in the investigative information acquired during my twelve years of research on the Emmett Till case. Armed with the right facts one can change the way history is written and encourage a nation to reevaluate that history. We must remember that initiating a cleansing dialogue is crucial in the process of racial reconciliation.

    My journey with Emmett Louis Till began when I was just ten years of age growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Very inquisitive and a lover of reading, I can remember rumbling through some old magazines my parents...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    When we first listened to the mournful lament ofMatamoros Banks, the final song of Bruce Springsteen’s haunting meditation on living and dying,Devils and Dust, we could not help but ask the question: Was this Emmett Till he was singing about? Even though later verses depict a Mexican’s fatal journey to the U.S. border, how curious that Springsteen got so many of the details right. It was on the third day that the fourteen-year-old Chicago boy’s lifeless and naked corpse finally broke the surface of the muddy Tallahatchie River, his legs raised by an eddy in the current, his...

  6. One “Sowing Seeds of Hatred” (August 28–September 1)
    (pp. 12-25)

    When he got off the Illinois Central train on Sunday, August 21, 1955, martyrdom did not have designs on Emmett Till. Even though history and memory have conspired to make him a most prominent martyr for the cause of civil rights, we ought to remember that civil rights and the larger freedom movement came to Till only after his heart stopped beating sometime in the early morning hours of August 28, 1955; his was a retrospective transformation—from a jocular black teen to the symbol of unbridled white Mississippi racism. In this transformation Till never had a say—at least...

  7. Two “Comely Carolyn” (September 2–September 6)
    (pp. 26-43)

    As Emmett Till’s pine-box coffin headed north on Friday, September 2—public viewing surely was out of the question—the discursive landscape in Mississippi was changing dramatically. Important definitions and traditions were at stake, as was that most prized Mississippi commodity: white female beauty. Many rural Mississippians were also reading the name Emmett Till for the first time as their weekly newspapers were often delivered on Fridays; as a consequence, most of them would never see the relatively positive run of news. And not surprisingly, Mississippians quickly closed ranks as Wilkins’s vituperations circulated freely and loudly around the state.


  8. Three “Resentful of the Slant” (September 7–September 9)
    (pp. 44-57)

    News of Carolyn Bryant’s beauty migrated rather quickly following theClarion-Ledger’sSeptember 6 publication. Downstate in Hattiesburg, theAmerican’sreaders were greeted on September 7 to the same picture on its front page. More flattering photographs would appear immediately before and during the trial. In contrast, only a cropped and somewhat menacing picture of Emmett Till would appear during the same period. Gone from white Mississippi consciousness were the happy Tills circa Christmas 1954. TheClarion-Ledgeralso published the first post-war photographs of the indicted Milam and Bryant on its front page on Wednesday, September 7. The two men are...

  9. Four “The World Is Watching” (September 10–September 18)
    (pp. 58-71)

    Perhaps because it was a UP wire story and many Mississippi newspapers subscribed to the AP wire service, Faulkner’s blistering editorial did not receive a broad airing around the state. More likely, Mississippi editors simply wanted no part of yet another “outsider’s” denunciation of their state. Even so, Faulkner was not keeping Emmett Till’s name alive in the state’s newspapers; the massive coverage already given to the case ensured that. Even though Milam and Bryant’s trial was ten days away, the story would remain in the public eye. After all, white Mississippians had too much at stake in the case...

  10. Five “Every Last Anglo-Saxon One of You” (September 19–September 23)
    (pp. 72-106)

    The most sensational trial in Mississippi’s history officially began on September 19. The Mississippi press, along with Mamie Till and the NAACP, ensured a national and even worldwide audience for the week-long proceedings. Reporters from as far away as England descended on the sultry and roiling Delta town of Sumner—the western county seat of Tallahatchie—to document how southern racial justice would play out. And it did not take long for the reporters to note a morbidly ironic advertisement for the town: on a roadside billboard, Sumner touted itself as a “good place to raise a boy.” Perhaps Jim...

  11. Six “Forgotten as Quickly as Possible”? (September 24–September 30)
    (pp. 107-125)

    The more liberal daily in the state capital duly recorded these osculations: above the fold on page 1 of theJackson State Times, Roy Bryant is pictured “flush with joy” kissing his “pretty young brunette” wife while, opposite them, Juanita Milam is pictured enduring “a long, forceful” kiss from her acquitted husband. Ralph Hutto, whose byline was on many of the Till stories for the newspaper, snapped both pictures. Perhaps the multitalented Hutto had also drafted the paper’s editorial that ran immediately next to the photos. Titled “The Truth Remains,” the editorial was one of the most measured responses to...

  12. Seven “Like Father—Like Son” (October 1955–January 1956)
    (pp. 126-152)

    Many Mississippi newspapers did not take the postverdict northern reaction lightly, and, while theJackson Daily Newswas a prime example of the southern response, other papers followed their lead. Just east of Greenwood, in Winona, the local paper reprinted a story from theDaily Newsthat featured the words of archsegregationist and powerful senator James O. Eastland, whose family owned and operated a large plantation not far from Sumner. Without mentioning the name Emmett Till, Eastland urged all white residents of the capital to sign up for the Jackson Citizens’ Council. Not surprisingly, the senator used the language of...

  13. Eight Retrospective Prospects
    (pp. 153-166)

    With the gallons of ink spilled in Mississippi on the Emmett Till case, it is easy to forget that it all started with some playful adolescent boasts among friends and family on a hot summer evening near a ribbon of road in a nowhere southern town. It is also easy to forget the awful tragedy that ensued: turning Emmett Till into an object of discourse is to transform him into something more and something less than what he was. He was a slightly heavy fourteen-year-old boy who looked forward to the eighth grade, loved baseball, nice clothes, his adoring mother,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 167-188)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 189-206)
  16. Index
    (pp. 207-213)