In 1975, when Studs interviewed Muhammad Ali about his book The Greatest, Studs said to him, “If Emmett Till  lived, he’d have been you’re age, wouldn’t he?”  Hear Ali’s response here:

It’s likely you’re familiar with what happened to Emmett Till.  Twenty years before Studs interviewed Muhammad Ali, 14-year-old Till was visiting Mississippi from Chicago when he was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman.  His murderers were acquitted and then confessed publicly.

Earlier this month, Vanity Fair ran a story about author Timothy Tyson‘s new book, The Blood of Emmett Till. In that article, Tyson revealed that the woman who was the alleged whistle-target (Carolyn Bryant Donham) has reneged what she said at the trial for Till’s murder.  The murder, and subsequent trial and acquittal, is credited by many as being the first spark – or last straw – that ignited the Civil Rights movement.

The article states:

…Carolyn became reflective in Timothy Tyson’s presence, wistfully volunteering, “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” She also admitted she “felt tender sorrow,” Tyson would note, “for Mamie Till-Mobley”—Emmett Till’s mother, who died in 2003 after a lifetime spent crusading for civil rights.

Studs was friends with poet/activist John Beecher; they met in Montgomery after the march from Selma.  One of Beecher’s poetry collections, To Live and Die In Dixie includes a poem inspired by Emmett Till’s death, “The Better Sort of People.”  Beecher talks to Studs about who exactly those people were.  For more poetry inspired by Emmett Till’s death, check out Black, Poured Directly into the Wound by Patricia Smith.

The Better Sort of People
by John Beecher

Our Negroes here are satisfied
They don’t complain about a thing
except the weather maybe
whenever it’s too cold to fish
for cat along the riverbank
But when they get away from here
up to Chicago or Detroit
and stay a while and then come back with notions
about the right to vote
or going to school with white folks
we sometimes have to get it through their heads
who runs this country
They’re better off down here
or else why don’t they stay up yonder?
A lot of them keep coming back
but somehow they’ve been spoiled
and need the fear of God
thrown into them again
Mind you I’m against the kind of thing
the ignorant rednecks do
I think it was unnecessary
to beat that little Negro boy to death
and throw his body in the Tallahatchie
He was uppity
No doubt about it
and whistled at a white woman
He probably learned that in Chicago
so we ought to make allowances
A good horsewhipping would have been good enough
to put him back into his place
and been sufficient warning to him that
if he ever got fresh again
he wouldn’t live to see Chicago
Those rednecks that abducted him
I doubt if even they
really meant to kill him when they started
working on him
They just got too enthusiastic
Like I say the better sort of people
down here in Mississippi
we love our Negroes
We wouldn’t harm them for the world
This violence you hear so much about
is all the fault of low-down rednecks
poor white trash

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