Tallahatchie County Data Dashboard


Hale, Johnnie: Oral History

Johnnie Hale grew up in Sumner, Mississippi. He remembers Emmett Till’s murder and the boy’s mother’s request for an open-casket. Hale later moved to Detroit, Michigan, where race relations were not much better than they had been in Sumner. He had trouble finding a job and witnessed the infamous race riots. He believes it is vital that young people know about black history so as not to repeat the past.

Mr. Hale’s oral history, part one:

Tallahatchie County – Interview with Johnnie Hale 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part one of Mr. Hale’s oral history can also be viewed here.

Emmett Till Memorial Commission

On August 28, 1955, 14-year old Emmett Till was kidnapped in the middle of the night from his uncle’s home near Money, Mississippi, by at least two men, one from LeFlore and one from Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Till, a black youth from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi, was later murdered, and his body thrown into the Tallahatchie River. He had been accused of whistling at a white woman in Money. His badly beaten body was found days later in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. The Grand Jury meeting in Sumner, Mississippi, indicted Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the crime of murder. These two men were then tried on this charge and were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury after a deliberation of just over an hour. Within three months of their acquittal the two men confessed to the murder. Before the trial began, Till’s mother had sought assistance from federal officials, under the terms of the so-called “Lindbergh Law,” which made kidnapping a federal crime, but received no aid. Only a renewed request in December 2002 from Till’s mother, supported by Mississippi District Attorney Joyce Chiles and the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, yielded a new investigation.

The Emmett Till Memorial Commission was established by the Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors for the purpose of fostering racial harmony and reconciliation; to seek federal, state, and private funds and grants to initially restore the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi; to explore the restoration of other buildings and sites of historical value; and to promote educational tours of the courthouse and other sites in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi.

Video of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission and the unveiling of the first Emmett Till historical marker at the Sumner Courthouse:

The videos can also be viewed here.



Tallahatchie – Documents

Willis, Larry: Oral History

A Delta native, Larry Willis talks about his involvement with the civil rights movement and the Emmett Till murder. He explains the happenings associated with the trial such as how people would react when someone black would try to share an opinion or attend the trial. Willis also talks about his opinions on the reopening of the Emmett Till case as well as his opinions on some elected officials.

Mr. Willis’s oral history, part one:

Tallahatchie County – Interview with Larry Willis 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part one of his oral history can also be viewed here.

Sumner Courthouse

Sumner Courthouse

On September 23, 1955, two white men, Roy Bryant and JW Milam, were acquitted at the Sumner Courthouse of murdering 14-year-old Emmett Till. Till’s mother Mamie Till and uncle Moses Wright courageously testified in the 5-day trial, which drew international attention. The most dramatic moment came when Moses Wright was asked who abducted Emmett, and he stood and pointed at the defendants saying, “Dar he.” A jury of 12 white men found the two ‘not guilty’ after deliberating for only 66 minutes. Bryant and Milam later confessed to the murder.

Video of the first Emmett Till historical marker being unveiled in front of the Sumner Courthouse:

These videos can also be viewed here.

Other videos mentioning Sumner Courthouse:

The videos can also be viewed here.



Pearson, Betty: Oral History

Betty Pearson discusses growing up in Clarksdale, MS. She describes the impact her family had on her attitude towards race relations, an early experience that impacted her worldview, and growing up in a segregated society. She also talks about being present at the Emmett Till trial and being around Neshoba County during the Philadelphia murders.

Part 1 of 24 of Betty Pearson’s interview:

Tallahatchie County – Interview with Betty Pearson 01 from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Part 1 of 24 of the interview can also be found here.

Delta Inn

The Delta Inn was built circa 1920 in Sumner as a railroad and residence hotel by Mr. Zachariah Edward Jennings. The jury in the Bryant/ Milam trial for the racially motivated murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till stayed here in September 1955. During the trial, the KKK burned a cross in front of the Inn.



Till, Emmett

Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was an African-American teenager from Chicago, Illinois, who was brutally lynched near the small town of Drew in Sunflower County, Mississippi. His murder was one of the key events that led to the birth of the civil rights movement.

In the summer of 1955, he left Chicago to visit his great uncle Moses Wright who lived in the small town of Money, Mississippi. Located in the Mississippi Delta, Till’s trip was taking him to a region where racially motivated murders were not unfamiliar. It has been estimated by some civil rights leaders that thousands of people have been lynched in this area. Racial tensions in the region were rising even higher after the United States Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education to end segregation in schools.

Till arrived on August 21, 1955. On August 24, he joined other teenagers as they went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to get some refreshments. The market was owned by a white couple, Roy and Carolyn Bryant, and primarily served black sharecroppers and their families. While in the store, it is alleged that Till whistled at, or flirted with, Carolyn Bryant. Emmett Till was known to have a speech impediment, and in order to speak clearly he would whistle softly before speaking. This action, explicit or not, greatly angered her and her husband who, along with his half-brother J.W. Milam, decided to “teach the boy a lesson.”

On August 28, at around 2:30 p.m., Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Till from his uncle’s home. According to witnesses, they drove him to a weathered plantation shed in neighboring Sunflower County where they brutally beat him until he was unrecognizable. One of his eyes was gouged out and he was shot with a .45 caliber pistol. Then the pair, using barbed wire, attached a seventy-five pound cotton gin fan around Till’s neck to weigh his body down. His body was dumped into the Tallahatchie River near the small town of Glendora, MS. The boy’s corpse was found several days later, disfigured and decomposing in the Tallahatchie River. The boy’s body was so savagely beaten that Moses Wright could identify the body only by an initialed ring which had belonged to Emmett’s father, Louis Till.

J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant were arrested on August 29 after spending the night with relatives living in Ruleville, MS, only several miles away from where the murder actually took place. At first, both men admitted they had taken the boy from his great-uncle’s home but claimed they released him the same night.

The trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant began on September 19, 1955, at the Tallahatchie County courthouse in the city of Sumner. Dozens of reporters from around the country had invaded the tiny Delta town. There would be no black jurors because in a county where nearly 65 per cent of the 32,000 residents were black, there was not a single registered black voter. On September 23, the jury, made up of 12 white males, acquitted both defendants. Deliberations took just 67 minutes; one juror said they took a “soda break” to stretch the time to over an hour. This verdict outraged people around the globe and was an integral piece in the birth of the civil rights movement.

Many of the people who would later be a part of the civil rights movement considered themselves to be part of the “Emmett Till Generation.”

In 2007, The Emmett Till Memorial Commission, a multiracial group of citizens created by the Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors, held a memorial service for Emmett Till. At the memorial, members of the commission presented a “Call for Justice” which included an apology to Emmett Till’s family and a call for truth and justice in Tallahatchie County and in Mississippi. The commission also presented the first of a series of historical markers in the county to explain the history of Emmett Till’s murder.

Videos that mention Emmett Till:

Videos about Emmett Till can also be viewed here.

Tutwiler Funeral Home

On August 31, 1955, Woodrow Jackson prepared Emmett Till’s body here at the Tutwiler Funeral Home to return to Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, in Chicago. Emmett’s uncle, Crosby Smith, had to sign a document promising not to open the casket. Once the body reached Chicago, Mamie Till-Mobley defied that order, promising to show the world what was done to her son. The public outcry over the condition of Emmett’s mutilated body is considered to be one of the main sparks that ignited the Civil Rights Movement.

Videos that mention Tutwiler Funeral Home:

These videos can also be viewed here.