Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Rollover text informationAmerican Experience Logo
The Murder of Emmett Till
The Film and More
Special Features
Online Forum
Do You Remember?
Teens and Segregation
In Till's Shadow
Till's Legacy
Sex and Race
Killers' Confession

People and Events
Teacher's Guide

spacer above content
Do You Remember?

  Questions and Answers:  Day 1 |  Day 2 |  Day 3 |  Day 4
  Ask a Question | Read about the participants

Day 1:
January 21, 2002

Q: What happened to Carolyn Bryant? Did she ever express remorse?

Kristen Ames Lovelace
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Answered by Moses Newson:
Carolyn Bryant divorced Roy Bryant in 1979 and remarried. Except for her court testimony at the trial in Sumner she has said very little publicly about the Emmett Till case, refusing requests for interviews. In fact, apparently neither Carolyn Bryant or her sister-in-law Juanita Milam talked to their husbands about the incident at the store in Money until after one of the teen-agers there with Till mentioned it to Roy Bryant a couple days later after the husband returned from a trip to Texas.

Moses Newson

Q: As we review this documentary, has much really changed? A black man dragged to death in Texas a few years back. Racial intolerance practiced by high-ranking political officials, including the President. I'm not sure if Strom Thurmond did not win the war (not the battle).

Terrance Collier
Dallas, Texas

Answered by Moses Newson:
Justice still is not colorblind in this country, but there has been dramatic change for the better. The case you mentioned of a Black man in Texas being dragged to his death behind a vehicle, resulted in convictions and sentences. The struggle for racial equality in America continues but the tide is against the segregationist doctrine once trumpeted by former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.

Moses Newson

Q: How could a federal investigation not been done on this case? Was it the racial beliefs of Eisenhower and Hoover that stopped the reopening of the case or was it just too much for them to deal with?


Answered by Robin D.G. Kelley:
The Justice Department did claim to do some kind of investigation in 1955, issuing a statement that it was looking into whether Till's civil rights had been violated. Nothing came of it, obviously. The president was always reluctant to "interfere" in the South, and Hoover was clearly hostile to African Americans, but this alone doesn't explain the feds failure to respond. There simply were no federal investigations into lynchings at the time--at least no serious, thorough investigations. When Mack Charles Parker was lynched four years later, the FBI investigated but no one was prosecuted.

Robin D.G. Kelley

Q: I don't understand how it could be possible for these men to have not been on trial again, after the detailed confession of murdering this child. How could they have gotten away so blatently even in the fifties?

Jolynn Franklin
Chicago, Illinois

Answered by Robin D.G. Kelley:
Legally, they were protected by what's called "double jeopardy," which means that one cannot be tried twice for the same offense. It is prohibited by the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. '[T]he Double Jeopardy Clause protects against three distinct abuses: [1] a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; [2] a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and [3] multiple punishments for the same offense.'

Technically, a civil suit might have been possible, but there was no strong Civil Rights legislation at the time that would enable prosecutors to argue that Till's civil rights had been violated.

It's also important to keep in mind that in the South even as late as the 1950s lynchers were simply not prosecuted. Just four years after the Till murder, Mack Charles Parker was lynched in Poplarville, Mississippi. Although the FBI investigated his case, no one was prosecuted.

Robin D.G. Kelley

Q: I recently showed a white colleugue (a Ph.D. educator at that) an editorial that outlined the institutional racism inherent in the death penalty in the state of Maryland from the Washington Post. His only response to me was "it was extremely well written."

That of course was not at all the point. Thus, my question: is the subtle racism by denial and trivializing more common today just as dangerous in a way as the blatant racism of 1955 which killed Emmett Till?

Gus Griffin
Forestville, MD

Answered by Robin D.G. Kelley:
The subtle racism is certainly dangerous, though I would avoid comparing it with the lynching of Emmett Till. More importantly, I suggest that the issue of the death penalty is hardly subtle but direct. Black men are overwhelmingly represented on death row and it is not because they commit more murders than whites. It has to do with sentencing policy, the practices of prosecutors (not all), and a society that has been taught that black men are naturally more violent than others. Nevertheless, there are some significant changes. In the past, black men were lynched for no crime at all--being insolent or rude to white people, owning too much property, being accused of rape despite overwhelming lack of evidence, etc. Now, those who commit such brutal, ritualized murder (lynching) will most likely be prosecuted if caught, whereas in the past there were no laws against lynching. Yes, things have changed. And yes, some forms of violence and racial oppression persist in other forms.

Robin D.G. Kelley

Site Navigation

Special Features: Online Forum | Do You Remember? | Teens and Segregation
In Till's Shadow | Till's Legacy | Sex and Race | Killers' Confession

The Murder of Emmett Till Home | The Film & More | Special Features
Timeline | People and Events | Teacher's Guide