By Coshandra Dillard
With the availability of information in our digitized world, many long-forgotten pieces of history are being uncovered. People and events that were hidden or erased from records until recent years are piquing the interest of history buffs and those who seek the truth about their ancestors’ journeys.
These stories — from the colonization of the Americas to the Civil Rights Era — remind us of the hard-fought battles African Americans have won, and the many more we need to triumph.
The story of Emmett Till remains a significant flash point in American history that propelled the fight for equality and economic freedom for black people. But little is known about his father, Louis Till, who eerily met the same fate as Emmett 10 years prior to his murder.
Author John Edgar Wideman reexamined the life of Till’s father in the book, “Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File.” In the book, and in a piece he wrote for Esquire, Wideman pokes holes in the case against Louis Till.
“Energized by rape and color, the investigation bulldozed ahead, more mission than inquiry. Color and rape provided a motive. Explain and link crimes on the night of June 27 as a single, predictable outburst of the well-known lust and violence that seethes barely suppressed in the dark blood of colored soldiers. A drunken, murderous spree. A riot of uncontrollable, atavistic impulses. Colored soldiers whom the Army considered second-class citizens were suspects who possessed no rights investigators need respect. The logic of southern lynch law prevailed. All colored males are guilty of desiring to rape white women, so any colored soldier the agents hanged could not be innocent.”
— John Edgar Wideman, A Black and White Case, published in Esquire on Oct. 19, 2016
The senior Till, along with another black soldier, was hung by the Army after being found guilty of raping and killing a white woman. His son, 10 years later, was accused of whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. Decades after her accusation that cost Emmett Till his life, Bryant has admitted she lied.
The cases are like bookends: The Till family was given little or inaccurate information about their loved ones’ deaths. Army officials said Louis Till’s death was the result of “willful misconduct.” Details of his death was not revealed until after the trial of his son’s killers in 1955. During that trial, the now-declassified case was used to connect Emmett Till, implying that like his father, he was a sexual deviant.
Watch Wideman discuss his book here.