Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till
On Wednesday evening, August 24, 1955, Emmett Till and a group of friends, mostly males, decided to go to the local grocery store for some sodas and bubble gum. At 7:30 p.m., they jumped into a 1946 Ford and drove to Bryant's Grocery, a rundown, two-story building located at the only intersection in Money. Roy Bryant, 24, and his wife, Carolyn, both white, owned the business. They were able to carve out a meager profit by selling staples like flour, salt and vegetables to the locals, the majority of whom were black farmers and sharecroppers. Mostly, they sold on credit. The Bryants were poor, even by Mississippi standards, and had to live in a room behind the grocery store.
Carolyn was a pretty woman at age 21. When she was in high school, Carolyn won several beauty contests. She was barely five feet tall and weighed just over 100 pounds. She had long black hair, dark, attractive eyes and married Roy when she was just 17. Together, they had two children who were three and two years old. Their lives revolved around the grocery store. To supplement his income, Roy would take outside trucking jobs to make more money. Roy came from a large family. He had three brothers and three sisters from one father, which was the Bryant side of the clan and another five brothers from a different father, which was the Milam side.
When the group of black teenagers arrived at the store, Emmett was already bragging to his friends about his experiences with girls in Chicago. He carried a photograph of a white girl in his wallet, which he said was his girlfriend back home. Egged on by the males in the group, Emmett entered the store and struck up a conversation with Carolyn Bryant who was alone at the time. There have been many different versions of what happened inside Bryant's grocery that evening. Some accounts have Emmett putting his arms around Carolyn's waist and saying words like "I've got something for you baby." Other reports do not have him touching her at all, just uttering crude remarks. Carolyn testified at the trial that Emmett said, "What's the matter baby, can't you take it? You needn't be afraid of me!" But whatever occurred, it was enough for Carolyn to retrieve a pistol from the back of the store. Most sources, which included Till's friends, say that Emmett, just before he exited the store, whistled at Carolyn Bryant. Emmett, who most likely did not want to seem fearful in front of his peers, called out, "Bye baby!" By then his friends had come off the front porch and physically pulled him off the premise. They were truly afraid. Having grown up in Tallahatchie County, they knew what constituted unacceptable behavior when it came to racial relations.
After the rambunctious teenagers left the store, Carolyn told her sister in law, Juanita Milam, what happened. During that week, Roy was driving a truck down to Texas and he was not due back for a few days. The two women agreed not to tell their husbands about the incident. That was because a black youth making any type of a sexual advance to a white woman was such a blatant and grievous violation of the unspoken cultural code of the South, there could be only one punishment.