Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till


The woman kept her seat. Despite the driver who, after several minutes, became noticeably irritated that a black person would have the audacity to do what this woman did. She refused to give up a seat to a white man. She sat in the middle of the bus, staring out of a grimy window, deaf to the shouting around her. She was determined not to give in to what she considered to be an unjust demand. In Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, it was a criminal offense for a black person not to give up his or her seat to a white person when asked to do so.

"Are you going to get up or do I have to call the police?" the driver shouted.

The woman shifted her position slightly but did not get up. "Call them," she simply said.

"Damn it!" replied the driver as he marched off to the front of the bus. The woman watched the man, all in a huff, as he cursed his way to the nearest street corner to pick up a pay telephone. The driver was shouting into the receiver the last time she looked. The white passengers on the bus stared at her. Most were visibly angry; their faces displaying disapproval and disgust. But it was no matter to her. Having lived in Alabama nearly all of her 43 years, she had seen white faces like these before.

Glancing out the window, she saw a young boy ride by on his bike with several friends trailing after him. Across the street, young women carried their children in one arm and groceries in the other. Trucks rumbled by the stalled bus, sometimes blowing their horns in quick protest, oblivious to the growing drama. But the woman remained serene. She had more important things on her mind.

She was thinking of another boy who was in the news recently, a teenager from Chicago, with the unlikely name of Emmett "Bobo" Till. He visited the Mississippi delta for some sort of a vacation and came home dead. He was murdered, the papers said, for the "crime" of whistling at a white woman. His body was found in a muddy river with his face mangled.. The woman saw a newspaper photo of the boy's corpse. The image deeply disturbed her and because of it, she hadn't been able to sleep lately. No, she wouldn't give up her seat.

She saw the police roll up in a black and white radio car. Two very large and very white Montgomery cops got out of the car and listened to the driver's vociferous complaint. They shook their heads in astonishment. She could almost hear them. "What? A nigra woman? She won't give up her seat? Damn!" As if this was the most impossible thing they had ever seen. The bus tipped slightly to one side as the cops climbed the few steps up to the passenger level.

Things were not right here, she said to herself. Maybe if people just didn't go along with it anymore. Maybe if everyone just stuck together. Something had to happen. She saw a red-faced cop moving toward her but little did she care.

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by sheriff
Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by sheriff

The only thing Rosa Parks thought about was the boy, Emmett Till.

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