On July 18th, one of the witnesses to the infamous Emmett Till lynching in 1955 passed away. Willie Reed was a black teenager in Mississippi at the time and heard the 14-year-old Till's horrible screams as he was tortured by two white men for having allegedly whistled at one of their wives. ( Click here to read Willie Reed's account.)
A trial was quickly held, and despite eyewitness testimony and evidence, a jury, after less than an hour deliberating, found the two men innocent. The men later admitted their guilt in a magazine interview. And Willie Reed, who changed his name to Willie Louis for fear of retaliation, fled Mississippi for Chicago.
The story of Emmett Till's shocking murder provides the backdrop for Chris Crowe's excellent novel Mississippi Trial, 1955 (click here to reserve our copy). The book's protagonist, Hiram Hillburn, spends the summer in his old Mississippi hometown with his grandfather, thinking he can relive his happier youthful days.
One day his grandfather's housekeeper introduces him to her cousin's nephew from Chicago, Emmett (introduced as "Bobo") Till, and the two share a brief friendship before the subsequent murder. Hiram, who later gets to watch the trial of the two suspects, quickly discovers that he may know more about who was responsible for Emmett's tragic murder, which changes his perceptions about life forever.
Though a coming of age story focusing on its (white) protagonist, Mississippi Trial, 1955 vividly shows the evils of racial prejudice and it's effects on blacks and whites. Crowe's writing is fast paced and to the point, focusing on Hiram's plight, while highlighting the important historical context of the situation. (The Till lynching and it's aftermath helped fortify the emerging Civil Right Movement that was already taking form in 1955.)
If you're looking for something to read this summer (especially if you're taking part in our summer reading program), Mississippi Trial,1955 is recommended!
For more about the Emmett Till murder, check out this site. Thanks to CT for pointing out the Crowe book to me.