This segment will be rebroadcast on Monday, January 18, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was originally aired on January 16, 2014. You can also listen live.
Before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, Emmett Till — a young, black Chicagoan — was murdered for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Emmett Till’s cousin, Simeon Wright, is in St. Louis to give a presentation about the Civil Rights Movement and share the personal story that led to his participation in it.
In 1955, Simeon Wright was a 12-year-old boy living near Money, Miss. As a young African American living in the Jim Crowe South, injustice was a fact of life. But fighting for equal rights wasn’t on his radar.
He was just a young boy excited to hang out with his older cousin Emmett Till, visiting from Chicago.
“Back in those days, having someone visit from the North was a joy,” Wright said. He described his 14-year-old cousin as “fun loving” with “no fear.”
“He was always looking for something to do to make him laugh and make you laugh,” Wright said. “He wanted to be a comedian.”
Witnessing the abduction of his cousin, and the acquittal of the two white men he saw kidnap him, changed Wright and his friends forever. Wright was sharing a bed with Till when the men came in, woke them up, and forced Till out of the house at gunpoint.
Three days later Emmett Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River.
“We took the attitude, 'hey they’re going to kill us anyway so we might as well resist',” Wright said.
A few days before Till was kidnapped, he had whistled at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant, the wife of one of the men who kidnapped him.
“He (Till) thought it was funny but … you didn’t whistle at nothing white in Mississippi,” Wright said.
Wright is the author of “Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till,” published in 2010. A timeline of the events leading up to the murder of Emmett Till can be found on the PBS website.
Second Annual Martin Luther King Celebration, Presentation by Simeon Wright
Friday, January 17, 2014
Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School
425 South Lindbergh Boulevard
Saint Louis, Missouri 63131-2729
A Benefit Jazz Concert will follow Simeon Wright’s presentation at 7:30 p.m. This is also open to public but it’s $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information, visit the Chaminade website.