These four journalists spoke of the brave, unspeakable danger, and in some cases discrimination, to highlight the brutal injustice of Emmett Till’s murder.
Emmett Till’s body was disfigured and disfigured from torture and hours of floating in the waters of the Tallahatchie River, but his mother, Mami Till Mobley, insisted that an open funeral be held for her son. She fought the authorities in Mississippi, where Till was brutally murdered while visiting relatives, to send his remains to her Chicago home.
“Well, give me the crowbar, give me anything. What can they do to me? They have taken my son,” said Till Mobley upon receiving the casket. “Let the world see what they have done to my child.”
Honoring Emmett Till and Mami Till Mobley
The new national park site will ensure that the tragic death of Emmett Till and the strength and determination of his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, are not forgotten.
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The world has seen. When Emmett Till’s mutilated body was revealed to the public at his funeral, photographers from Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender took now-famous photos of Till Mobley standing on top of his coffin, crying in pain.
The photos were widely published in African American newspapers, and soon Americans everywhere heard the story of a 14-year-old black boy who was murdered by two racists, and his mother’s brave struggle for justice for her son.
Mamie Till Mobley’s courage in the face of unspeakable brutality and tragic injustice galvanized the civil rights movement in America. NPCA employees believe it’s been a long time since the creation of a new national park site that will ensure that the story of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley will never be forgotten.
Without a few brave reporters, however, this story might not have been told in the first place.
Reporting the murder of Emmet Till was dangerous, especially for black journalists in the South. Here are four people who have worked boldly and tirelessly to share the story of the Till family with the public.
Moses J Newson
In 1955, Moses J. After hearing rumors about potential black witnesses to the kidnapping and torture of Emmett Till, Newson accompanied NAACP Southeast Director Robbie Hurley on trips to farms in the Mississippi Delta. Newson wore old clothes and shoes to keep up with the female farmers and avoid suspicion. Newson, Hurley and prominent civil rights activist Medgar Evers and others helped find these witnesses, encourage them to come forward and testify, and grant them asylum in Mound Bayou, a nearby thriving black community.
After the trial, Newson went on to cover the 1961 Little Rock Nine and Freedom Rides as a reporter for The Baltimore Afro-American. He witnessed an angry mob beating young John Lewis in South Carolina. According to the Memphis Trade Appeal, “Newson was on a Greyhound bus that had been firebombed in Anniston, Ala., and remembers how the mob hit the sides of the bus with pipes and sticks before someone threw an incendiary object inside.”
Newson was inducted into the Maryland – Delaware – District of Columbia Press Association Hall of Fame in 2008. He is 95 years old and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Progressive magazine The Nation commissioned a 23-year-old reporter from New York named Dan Wakefield to cover the 1955 Emmett Till murder trial. Watching the jury handed down the verdict in September, he wrote desperately about how quickly the Mississippi Delta was back to business as usual after the verdict.
He wrote: “The crowds vanished and this delta city returned to its silent and solid life of cotton and the suggestion that an entire race of men was created to choose it.” Citizens drinking from the ‘whites only’ fountain in the courtroom are breathing more easily now that the two fair-skinned half-brothers, ages 24 and 36, have been acquitted of the murder of a fourteen-year-old nigger boy. The streets are quiet , Chicago is once again a legendary name, and everyone here “knows where it is”.
Now, 90, Wakefield is still a working journalist on left-wing blogs like Counterpunch and has written several books and films. In June 2020, Wakefield spoke of parallels between the killing of George Floyd and the events he witnessed in Mississippi: “It’s not just the South and it’s no longer cotton. The American dream is based on the nightmare of racial oppression.”
Matty Smith Collin
The Chicago Defender was one of the most influential and widely read black newspapers of the 20th century, thanks in part to an agreement with Pullman porters who distributed the newspaper on trains bound across the country, sometimes in violation of laws in the South.
Emmett Till was murdered 64 years ago. Is it time to create a national park that recognizes him and tells the story of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi?
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In 1955 Defender Matty Smith sent Cullen, a talented reporter at a time when the industry was overwhelmingly male and white, to a Chicago train station to see Emmett Till’s body as she arrived home.
“Oh, my God, my God, my only son,” cried Ms. Mammy (even) Bradley as five men lifted a paper-wrapped package from a wooden box built in the mid-Victorian era at Illinois Central Station in Chicago Friday and put it on hold .
The package was the bruised, bullet-ridden body of a 14-year-old boy, Emmett L.
Colin continued to cover the murder, and attended Emmett’s funeral at the Lord’s Church at Roberts in Christ Temple. She later worked as a food and fashion columnist and eventually as a traveling editor at Defender, retiring in 2002 after more than 50 years of public service. Colin passed away in 2016 at the age of 98.
No list of reporters who covered the civil rights movement would be complete without Simeon Bowker. In a 2017 obituary, NPR referred to Booker as “the dean of the Washington Black Press Service.”
62 years ago, Booker had already built an impressive reputation when his editors at Jet magazine commissioned him to cover and prosecute Emmett Till’s murder. He had written for the Cleveland-based Baltimore African-American newspaper Call and Post, and served as the Washington Post’s first full-time black reporter.
Upon learning of Emmett Till’s murder, Booker visits Mamie Till Mobley at her home and develops an affair with her. When Till Mobley visited her son’s body at a Chicago funeral home and insisted on an open funeral, Booker was by her side. Booker also met with Till Mobley and activists on Monde Bayou and made room for her at the black press table in the courtroom.
In his book Shock of Conscience: A Journalism Reporting for the Civil Rights Movement, Booker notes that the Tallahatchie County Sheriff, Clarence Strider, attempted to ban all black reporters from the courtroom. Failing that, he greeted the black press every morning of the trial with a racist nickname.
Like Moses Newson, Booker also covered the Freedom Knights, sometimes disguised while reporting in dangerous conditions. According to his obituary in the Washington Post: “For his own safety, he sometimes disguised himself as a minister, and carried a Bible under his arm. At other times, he ditched his usual suit and tie to look like a part of a farmer.”
“Once upon a time, in an incident recounted when Mr. Booker was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame in 2013, he escaped a mob by riding into the back of a niche.”
Booker went on to set up the Washington desk of Jet and Ebony magazines, and wrote a weekly column for Jet called Ticker Tape USA covering 10 presidents. He retired at the age of 90 and died at the age of 99 in Solomons, Maryland.