We all know how Emmett Till’s murder trial ended. The men who lynched him in 1955 — Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam — walked away scot-free when a jury of 12 white men in Mississippi returned a “not guilty” verdict.
The finale of ABC’s powerfully portrayed limited series Women of the Movement on Thursday night filled in the blanks with all of the things we weren’t taught in school about the trial. For instance, Bryant and Milam’s defense attorneys tried to argue that Till’s body wasn’t his but a hoax staged by the NAACP.
On the other hand, those same attorneys pushed for Carolyn Bryant, one of their called witnesses, to bend the truth on the stand so that it would be Till who was put on trial instead of his murderers, for supposedly being flirty and handsy. Although the judge asked the jury to leave the courtroom when Bryant testified, the supposedly impartial jurors still heard about her account from friends and family who broke the law and told them.
The only one who seemed to be following the rules was prosecutor Gerald Chatham, who tried in vain to appeal to the civil side of the jurors when he argued that Till was a child who should’ve been whupped, not killed, for insulting a white woman. The jurors took a little more than an hour to return their hateful verdict, and flippantly remarked that their deliberation would’ve been even more swift if they hadn’t stopped for a soda break.
Adrienne Warren, who starred as Till’s mother Mamie, did a wonderful job throughout the two-part closer encapsulating all of the grief and horror this woman suffered as she watched the defendants, jurors and white courtroom onlookers treat the entire judicial undertaking as a sideshow. She wanted to believe there could be justice for her son but in her heart of hearts, knew it was a miracle there was a trial at all.
Episode 6 delved into the State of Mississippi’s attempts to convict Milam and Bryant for kidnapping, a crime the two admitted to committing in court. There were those who refused to allow accountability when it came to white men killing Black people, however, and those same powers leaked family patriarch Louis Till’s military file to the press. The file revealed that Louis had been accused, tried and hanged for raping two Italian women, and killing another, overseas during World War II with the help of an accomplice.
The uncovered details from those sealed documents, which many decades later were proven to be trumped up and fabricated, ensured that Milam and Bryant were never tried and convicted for kidnapping. Relying on “double jeopardy” privileges, the two later confessed to killing Till in a paid magazine interview.
Not only did Mamie Till have to learn about her deceased husband’s tarnished and deadly military career with the rest of the world, but she had to press on as her son’s murderers flaunted their unjust freedom in everyone’s faces. Still, Women of the Movement did show, even if briefly, that Kharma intervened here and there in Bryant and Milam’s lives. For instance, Bryant lost his business because Black people in Money, Miss. stopped shopping at his store. (He died of cancer many years later.)
Milam, meanwhile, slowly fell into poverty when Black people stopped working his land. He had to hire white farm hands who demanded higher wages he couldn’t afford. (He also died of cancer many years later.) The series didn’t talk about their fates or eventual deaths.
Instead, Women of the Movement focused on Mamie Till’s fate and how she eventually became a teacher and married her boyfriend Gene Mobley. And she never stopped fighting for justice or sharing her son’s story with the world, because, as Mamie once said, she was his mother but he was a son to us all.
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