review: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case : Getting Away With Murder

Title: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case : Getting Away With Murder
author: Chris Crowe
date: Speak; revised. 2018

In The True Story of the Emmett Till Case : Getting Away With Murder. Chris Crowe

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 6.12.44 PM
2 HELD FOR TRIAL IN SLAYING OF BOY. (1955, Sep 07). New York Times

documents the life and death of Emmitt Till, an African American boy who at age 14 was murdered in retaliation for alleged overtures to Carolyn Bryant Donham in Bryant’s Grocery Store and Meat Market in Money, Mississippi. Crowe wrote the first edition of the book because so little else had been written to document this event that is significant in the U.S.’s civil rights legacy. I think he wrote the second edition not only to provide updates to the event that occurred 60 years ago, but to re-contextualize it as well.

If we have learned anything in the twenty first century from the Emmett Till case, it’s that our fellow citizens – and our common history – matter. Progress is possible, and our understanding of civil rights history is essential in that progress.

This update comes fifteen years after the first publication. Using the original text as a frame, Crowe inserts two important facts. First, that Till’s father was executed after what was probably a racially motivated incident during WWII in Italy (page 38). Second, he inserted that Carolyn Bryant Donham misrepresented the truth in her account of what happened in that grocery store (page 52). His mention of this event is brief in a way that should be disturbing, yet it isn’t. His slight mention is reflective of how little attention was paid to this news when it was released in 2017. Most associated with the event have passed away and southern justice has already run its course on this case.J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, the two men who had been accused of the murder and found not guilty only to months later confess their guilt to a magazine were never taken back to court. They couldn’t by tried again on the same charges and no one found any other charges on which to accuse them.

Crowe manages to be remain both factual and engaging. He provides a clear order to the events at a pace that will keep young readers engaged in the story. Archival images help bring it all to life. The book is not indexed, but there is a detailed time line at the rear of the book. In a new chapter added to the book, Crowe details has been uncovered about the case.

In updating the book, Crowe eliminated a few details (such as the accounts by Curtis Jones on page 47 of the original edition). Combined with vocabulary changes (from ‘innocent’ on page 79 of the first edition to ‘not guilty’ on p. 78 of the second edition) it seems he was working for even greater accuracy. Yet, on p. 58 of the second edition, Crowe seems to stick with the claim from the first edition that the trial transcripts were missing. “Only two sources contain details of what happened after the men left Wright’s home: murder trial transcripts, which disappeared a few years after the trail, and the post-trial interviews Bryant an Milam had with journalist William Bradford Huie. Portions of the courtroom testimony can still be found in archives of local and national newspapers that covered the trial and in High Stephen Whittaker’s 1963 master’s thesis about the Emmett Till murder.” A complete transcript of the trial was recovered in 2008 and is available in FBI Records : The Vault. He does not list this in his bibliography.

What Crowe does do is to contextual this event in both classic and modern civil rights history. While he doesn’t name white supremacy, he certainly describes it. He recognizes its power and acknowledges the ways Mamie Till and all those Blacks who testified in the Till trial rose up and resisted. Even while writing about the darkest moments in our national history, Crowe manages to conclude on a note of hope.
This books should be in all public and school libraries.

One thought on “review: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case : Getting Away With Murder

  1. Thank you for your thorough review, Edi. That Crowe has updated his book, along with its subtitle–“Getting Away with Murder”–connects this awful event with what we all know: that the struggle continues. My hands-down favorite “Emmett Till” book remains Marilyn Nelson’s profound and chilling poem, A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, gorgeously illustrated by Philippe Lardy (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

    Say his name. And say the names of all the young people since, lynched in different, but no less horrible, ways.


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