Given all of the major media headlines since its January 31, release, it’s easy for the public to think the new book, The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon and Schuster), is mainly about the confession by Carolyn Bryant, the Mississippi White woman whose lie, in 1955, caused the brutal lynching and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
However, in an exclusive interview with the Black Press this week, the author, Professor Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University senior research scholar and historian, says Bryant’s 2007 revelation to him that the Black teen never said or did anything “sexually flirtatious” to her to warrant his being kidnapped by her husband and his half-brother, then beaten, shot in the head, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River, wrapped in barbed wire and weighted down by a 75 lb. cotton gin fan, is just where the controversial book begins.
The rest of the 304-page volume, not only meticulously documents what led up to the despicable murder of the innocent child, but more importantly, Tyson says, the reasons why White supremacists have historically resorted to violence to deny African-Americans their civil rights.
Tyson said, after taping the Bryant interview in 2007, he put it away in his archives for later possible use, but, during the course of subsequent research, found himself drawn into the Emmett Till story, ultimately doing seven years of research off and on. Writing the book became an emotional challenge, he says, and there were times when he didn’t know if he would, or could, finish the book.
“This was such a hard, dark story, and I procrastinated until I realized I didn’t want to go down into that hole. I didn’t want to go down in there,” Tyson said, indicating why it took him ten years to finish the book he initially didn’t mean to start. ‘The racial murder of a child was just too brutal for me to handle at times,” he says.
Reaction to Bryant’s admission in Tyson’s new book has been sharp.
“Emmitt Till was not just put to death. He was torched to death. Her omission to it today doesn’t provide any healing for the case but adds more fuel to an already lit fire when it comes to social justice,” says Jack S. Monell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Justice Studies, Winston-Salem State University.
In many ways, Timothy Tyson is the ideal author to explore new details surrounding the lynching death of Emmett Till. Bryant read one of Tyson’s prior books, Blood Done Signed My Name, his semi-autobiographical story about growing up in segregated Oxford, N. C., the son of The Reverend Vernon Tyson, a bold White Methodist preacher, who stood strongly for civil rights, at the risk of his own life.
Young Tyson was eleven years old when, in 1970, a 23 year old Black Vietnam veteran, named Henry Marrow, was beaten and fatally shot by three White men in public. They were later acquitted. Black veterans protested the racial slaying by burning down Oxford’s tobacco warehouses. As racial tensions rose, a young Black activist, The Reverend Benjamin Chavis, came to fore, later moving to Wilmington a year later. There he was later arrested as one of the Wilmington Ten.
The Reverend Vernon Tyson and his family, forced out of Oxford, also moved to Wilmington, giving young Timothy a front row seat to the racial violence and strife that gripped the Port City in 1971, as the public schools integrated, and a Klan group, known as The Rights of White People attacked African-Americans in their community.
It was there where young Timothy learned about the Wilmington race massacre of 1898, where angry Whites slaughtered Blacks because they believed they were getting too much power.
“We have to look this history straight in the eye in all of its horror and brutality and all of the resistance that it has inspired,” Tyson says. “We cannot forget the people who stood against the racial caste system and risked their lives for the founding documents of America to actually mean something and for African-Americans to be recognized as full citizens.”
While Tyson has high regard for the non-violent movement which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others led to bring about racial equality, the fact remains that, even to this day, Tyson says Black lives continue to be targeted and taken, from Trayvon Martin to other Black men and women who have been targeted by the police in recent years, and Americans need to realize the historic context in which this violence takes place and continue to stand strong against it.
Tyson notes the heroic efforts of Robert Williams, the NAACP leader in Monroe, N. C., who refused to live in fear amid threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Therefore, he urged Blacks to take up arms to defend themselves and their families.
“His is a civil rights legacy handed down,” Tyson insists. “He stood on the shoulders of the Reconstruction militants.
Just as the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others fueled the modern “Black Lives Matter” movement, Tyson reminded that, in December 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama city bus, she said she did so thinking of young Emmett Till.
Violence against Blacks throughout the South, especially after the U. S. Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision, was a daily occurrence, and local law enforcement did little to stop it because Whites did not want integration of any sort with Blacks, let alone in the public schools.
Tyson says the Emmett Till murder and the courageous stand his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley took to have an open casket funeral so that the world could see the brutality her son endured, lit a fuse to the then-sputtering Civil Rights Movement that added new determination for African-Americans to move forward for freedom.
The Black Press, led by Ebony and Jet magazines and the Chicago Defender put the picture of Emmett Till’s battered body on their covers and front pages.
The Reverend Dr. Ben Chavis, President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, has nothing but praise for his old friend.
“I have personally known Tim Tyson and the Tyson family for decades,” Dr. Chavis said. “Tim’s genius as a historian, author and social visionary informs his unique commitment to write truth to power authentically and fearlessly. The Emmett Till story, as Tim reveals, is the tragic story of American apartheid yet still in need of challenge, even in this day and time.”
Those who know Tim Tyson know that the White scholar means what he says about stopping the historic violence against African-Americans. Just a few years ago, it was routine to see Tyson handcuffed and led away by police officers after joining his close friend, The Reverend William Barber, President of the NCNAACP, in protesting at the Wake School Board meetings and at the State Legislature during Moral Monday demonstrations.
And it was Tyson, in 2012, who donated documented evidence he had earlier secured from the New Hanover County District Attorney’s office to write a book, proving that the Wilmington Ten had been falsely convicted for crimes they did not commit by a corrupt state prosecutor, that ultimately led to Governor Beverly Perdue’s issuing the historic Pardons of Innocence, exonerating The Wilmington Ten,, ten civil rights activists, after 40 years.
It doesn’t escape Tim Tyson that his explosive book is being released as America is dealing with hard questions about race and equality, this time under the Trump Administration. He hopes that readers will find meaning and inspiration to take a stand and demand that all people be treated with dignity and respect.
“The most important part of [the Emmett Till] story is what people did in response,’ Tim Tyson says.