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Is History Always Worth Preserving?


While viewing a photography exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts last April, I came upon a photograph of a dilapidated building with a faded sign that read "Young's Grocery and Meat Market." Although the building didn't look like anything unique to a ghost town, it was the plaque next to the print that shed light on the disturbing past of the building: The former Bryant's Grocery, Money, Mississippi, June 1994

Public Domain

I learned about the significance of the building while browsing through the companion website for our 2003 film The Murder of Emmett Till. On August 24, 1955, a 14-year-old African-American boy named Emmett Till allegedly whistled at the wife of Roy Bryant, the owner of this grocery and meat market. Four days later, the Chicago teenager was kidnapped, beaten, and killed. When his body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River on August 31st, the news spread across the country. Emmett Till's story became a media sensation and ultimately a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

At the time of the murder, Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market provided food and supplies to black sharecroppers and their families. Although Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Miliam were acquitted of the crime on September 23rd, the men confessed to killing Till in an interview published in the January 1956 issue of Look magazine. Business began to dwindle and Bryant's store closed shortly after.

Today, the building sits empty and in desperate need of repair. The roof has collapsed, compromising the structural integrity of the building, and vines cover its faded exterior. In 2005, the Mississippi Heritage Trust featured the former grocery store on its "10 Most Endangered Historic Places" list to raise awareness around the threat to this historic site. Despite its place on the list, there has been no progress in the restoration of the site.

Ben Roy's Service Station, which sits next to the Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market and was also owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, recently received $152,000 for restoration from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as part of the Mississippi Civil Rights Historical Program. The courthouse where the trial against Roy and J.W. Miliam was held will also receive funds from this project. However, no amount of money has been settled on for the restoration of the grocery store.

There is currently a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker placed near the building denoting its historical significance. Do you think this is enough? Should the former Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market be restored?

 

 

Lauren Noyes is a Production Assistant for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. 


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