SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Perhaps no modern day tragedy has had a greater impact on race relations in America than the murder of Emmett Till in the 1950s in Mississippi.
“Sacred us all half to death,” said Simeon Wright.
It was a whistle that cost Emmett Till his life, and changed race relations forever in this nation.
It was 1955 at Bryant Grocery where Till supposedly made an unwanted advance toward Roy Bryant’s attractive young wife, Carolyn.
Till’s cousin, Wright, was there when it happened. He said his cousin was just trying to make his friends laugh.
“Whistling at a white woman, you didn’t do that. He didn’t know,” said Wright.
Wright was there a couple days later when they came for his cousin.
“I heard the yelling. They tuned on the light and there were two white men at the foot of my bed,” he said.
They took Till away, beat him, tortured him, and then they killed him.
“They shot him in the head, threw him in the Tallahatchie River,” said Wright.
Till’s mother Mamie Till had the body sent back to Chicago and demanded an open casket funeral.
” ‘I want the world to see what they did to my baby,’ Wright said, quoting Till’s mother said. “She had a glass top casket and the world got to see what racism looks like.”
The world did see. Till’s battered corpse was shown in magazines, the network news showed it, and Bob Dylan wrote a song about it.
Rosa Parks said she was thinking of what they did to Till when she refused to give up her seat.
“It changed attitudes everywhere,” said Wright.
For years, Wright didn’t talk about what happened. It was too hard, but then he had the courage to write down what happened in a book. So we would never forget.
“Don’t forget what happened to Emmitt, please don’t forget,” Wright said.
The men who killed him were allowed to walk away, but they later confessed to the crime.
Wright’s book, “Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till,” is available on Amazon.com.