Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till

"That Was My Boy!"

The heat in Sumner during the week of the trial was humid and oppressive. On the day Wright took the stand, the afternoon temperature outside the courthouse was 99 degrees. Inside the building, it was even higher. Venders sold cold drinks on the steps of the old courthouse and ice water made the rounds in the courtroom. People waved fans incessantly in front of their faces while the proceedings went on. As the black reporters filed into the courtroom for the late session on Thursday, Sheriff Strider greeted them in his traditional way. "Hello, niggers," he said.

Prosecutor Robert Smith called Mamie Till to the stand. She proved to be an articulate witness who maintained her composure despite the pain she must have felt. Answering questions first from the prosecutor, Mamie described the awful ordeal of identifying her dead son in Chicago.

"I positively identified the body I saw on the slab in Chicago as being my son, Emmett Louis Till," she told the court. Then prosecutor Smith showed her the ring that was found on the dead boy's finger. She identified it as the same one that belonged to her dead husband and she gave to Emmett before he boarded the train in Chicago headed for Money. "Since he was twelve years old, he has worn the ring on occasions," she said, "using Scotch tape or a string to keep it from coming off. When he left for Chicagohe found the ring again and put it on his finger to show me that it fit and he didn't have to wear tape anymore."

When the defense team questioned Mamie Till, they wanted to know what newspapers she read. They asked if she had insurance on Emmett's life and how much. "Have you collected on the policy?" one defense attorney inquired.

"I've been waiting for the death certificate," she quietly replied. Did she talk to her son about how to behave while on vacation in Mississippi?

"I can give you a liberal transcription of what I said," she replied, "I told him to be very careful how he spoke and to say 'yes sir' and no, sir.' Naturally, coming from Chicago he wouldn't know how to act." But what the defense really wanted to know was the identification of the remains taken from the Tallahatchie River. "I looked at the ears, the forehead, the nose, the lips, the chin," Mamie replied, "I knew definitely that was my boy beyond a shadow of a doubt."

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