Tragedy in Money

A single marker, front and back, is the
only indicator of the site's immensely
important history.

It was the first day. I had little incentive to trust the professors who led us into the remoteness of the Mississippi Delta. So, when the lead van turned off onto a dirt road that disappeared into a vast corn field, I hesitated. A prolonged drive on this road did not ease my reticence. Eventually our caravan emerged, covered in dust, in Money, Mississippi. Even as we pulled off the road near the decaying facade of a long-abandoned structure, the reason for our excursion eluded me. Only as we gathered around the marker titled "Bryant's Grocery," did I realize the significance of our destination.

In the summer of 1955, Emmett Till was visiting his great uncle in Money. Till was fourteen, black, and a Chicago native. He was not familiar with the precarious structure of race relations in the Deep South. After he allegedly flirted with Carolyn Bryant at Bryant's Grocery, her husband Roy and her brother J. W. Milam took Till from his great uncle's home in the middle of the night.

The private owners of the property have
allowed the structure to deteriorate.

The kidnappers savagely beat Till with the butt of their pistols, as the teenager did not deny his flirtation. The two men "were never able to scare him," and in a heinous act of rage, they shot Emmett Till. The men obtained a seventy-four pound fan from a gin, tied it to Till's neck with barbed wire, and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River. 

Till's mother had a glass casket built, so that the world could "see what they did to [her] boy." A jury failed to convict the murderers, but they later sold their story, with a confession, to Look magazine.
This interpretive panel cites Till's murder
as a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

The site of the deteriorating grocery store was immensely powerful. There a fateful exchange occurred that set the stage for the murder of a fourteen year old. Perhaps because the property remains in private hands, which forbid trespassing, and remains relatively invisible to the unknowing, it is all the more meaningful. Unadorned, comparatively unshackled by interpretative text or signs, and hidden away on a Mississippi backroad, Bryant's Grocery remains a chilling reminder of the cruelty and violence that anchored southern segregation in place. I have to pause to think of the countless forgotten sites that have critical, intensely human stories to tell. Never be afraid to take an unmarked road. History lingers in surprising places.

Daniel Manuel

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