Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. (Photo: John Young/THV 11 News)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Many Americans have heard the story of Emmett Till, the young boy from Chicago, who in 1955, was brutally killed, for whistling at a white woman while visiting family in Mississippi.
But many people may not have heard of Simeon Wright, Emmett's cousin who still remembers and shares his account of the terrible day.
After retiring from work as a pipe fitter, Wright now spends much of his time sharing stories about his cousin and giving speeches on what people can learn from the case. In February, he spoke to visitors of the new civil rights exhibit at Laman Library in North Little Rock.
During his speech, he shared funny stories of Emmett, ones that made the crowd erupt in laughter.
But if you asked him decades ago, if he'd have anything to laugh about, when speaking of Emmett, he'd probably would've said 'no.' He was filled with anger.
The anger was spawned in the summer of 1955 in Mississippi, when 14-year old Emmett Till from Chicago visited his cousin Simeon and the rest of his family. It had been 8 years since Emmett had last seen them, and in that time, Mississippi had changed.
Simeon Wright explains, "Under the Jim Crow system, we had no protection under the law, we had no one to help us."
And under that law, blacks and whites were separate, and there were codes most blacks from the south knew to follow; a code Emmett didn't know.
During that family visit, a typical trip to the store in neighboring Money, Mississippi would be anything but typical.
Wright recalls, "Inside the store, Emmett did nothing out of the ordinary." But when Emmett, Simeon and his brothers left, all that changed when Emmett saw a white woman, Mrs. Carolyn Bryant.
"She came out of the store, going toward her car and for some unknown reason, Emmett whistled at her." He continues, "It scared us half to death."
They left the store and the town, but couldn't get out fast enough. They knew a mistake had been made, but it never dawned on them, it was a deadly one. Three days passed and nothing happend.
Then in the deep of the night, two white men went to Simeon's house, got Emmett out of bed and carried him outside.
"They claimed, 'we just gonna whup 'em and bring him back,'" Wright remembers.
But Emmett would never be seen alive again.
The family held onto hope for days, until they received word that Emmett's body had been found.
Wright said, "It was found floating in the Tallahatchie River." He describes what he was feeling, "The grief, the heartbreak, the feeling is hard to describe...you had a feeling of hopelessness."
And those feelings of despair would get worse for the then 12-year-old Simeon. Emmett's mother, Mamie, learned of her son's fate; authorities told her not to open the casket and suggested Emmett be buried in Mississippi. But Mamie did the opposite, having an open-casket funeral for him in Chicago. The image changed a nation and sparked a movement.
For Simeon, his innocence went away and was replaced by something much uglier. "I was angry and I wanted to take my revenge to that particular expression," Wright admits.
This emotion started a painful course he was about take in his life. To read Part Two of Simeon Wright's story, one of healing and hope, click here.