Editorial: In Black History, the truth needs to come out

Editorial: In Black History, the truth needs to come out
February 02
06:00 2017

It’s Black History Month. This is the time when organizations, schools, universities and churches plan programs to honor African-Americans. Exhibits pop up and discussions emerge about topics regarding Black History.

But this is 2017, and Donald Trump is president, so who knows what else will emerge during this month, such as the admission of lying during the trial of men accused of killing Emmett Till. In promoting a book about the black 14-year-old from Chicago who was killed by white supremacists in Mississippi in 1955, the author says he has a confession in the book that the woman who was the alleged target of the teenager’s affections lied during the trial.

Historian Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University research scholar, told The Associated Press last week that Carolyn Donham, then known as Carolyn Bryant, gave Tyson an interview in 2008. His book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” comes out this week.

Emmett Till, who was down South to help a great-uncle, was tortured and killed in 1955 in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman.

Bryant Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half brother, J.W. Milam, were accused of killing Till. They were acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men, who later confessed to the murder of Till, have since died.

Tyson said Carolyn Bryant Donham told him: “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”

Now, if Carolyn Bryant had told the truth, history probably would have been different. Till probably would not have been killed.

Carolyn Bryant told her husband enough to get him and his half-brother riled up to kill the teenager. Mind you, this was a teenager. These were grown men. But there was no thought of just confronting Emmett Till to get the truth, like probably would have happened if the boy who was accused of whistling at the white woman were white. No, this was an affront by a black boy to Roy Bryant’s wife, so he was told. Till was black, so that shut out all reason.

Till’s death fueled the budding Civil Rights Movement across the country. Till’s mother, Mamie Till, was defiant in the death of her son. She ordered an open casket at his funeral to show how he had been tortured.

Some could say that without Emmett Till’s death, the Civil Rights Movement would have taken longer to get rolling. We don’t know that some other event would have taken its place, however.

But this shows how lying can have dire consequences. Who else has lied over the course of Black History? In this case, there was no drive to get the truth. Blackness shut that possibility out for the white people involved.

As we present Black History, we need to put it into perspective for our children. Some children might not be able to believe that a teenager was killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. We have to put the Emmett Till story and other stories from Black History into perspective. It was a differ-ent time in 1955. Jim Crow was thriving, especially in the South. It was a common practice for black children from the North with relatives in the South to be sent to those relatives for the summer. It was presented in history that Emmett Till was from the North, which allowed more freedom, it appeared, of interaction between white and black people, and Till was just being himself when he whistled at the white woman. That’s the story from the white people. And history says Till did whistle, but it was on the porch of the store that Carolyn Bryant and her husband owned, not inside where she was. Was he whistling at Mrs. Bryant, really?

History shows that at the trial, Emmett Till’s great-uncle pointed to the men who came to his house and took his relative away and was later killed. The all white jury just couldn’t believe him. That was not proper in Mississippi at that time. So, the white men were found not guilty. Now, that’s the truth.

The truth needs to arise in Black History, when we can get it.

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