The Ole Miss School of Law chartered a bus to Sumner on Friday, to visit the Tallahatchie County Courthouse and Emmett Till Interpretive Museum. The visit came in response to the photo of three Kappa Alpha fraternity members holding firearms at the river site sign, which made national headlines this summer.
Susan Duncan, law school dean, said that the purpose of the visit was to educate students to make them continually aware of events like that of the Till murder and to show how derogatory the photo was.
“I think it’s very important for law students especially,” Duncan said. “(They) will be the leaders in their communities and should be leaders on campus, so they can have an open dialogue with each other about how we can make sure things change. They should try to make something positive out of a negative situation, and I thought this was a step that would help us do that.”
The students visited the second-floor courtroom of the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, where the 1955 trial that acquitted Till’s murderers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, occurred. Bryant and Milam later confessed to the crime in 1956.
In the courtroom, law students heard, in detail, the story of the courthouse and the Till trial, and were given an update on the current state of the Sumner justice system by District Judge Smith Murphey and the directors of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center.
In 2007, more than 50 years after Till’s murder, the town of Sumner issued a resolution of apology to the Till family for miscarriage of justice. Those in attendance on Friday read the full 414-word resolution, in the same courtroom where his murderers were acquitted.
Part of the resolution read: “We the citizens of Tallahatchie County believe that racial reconciliation begins with telling the truth…We the citizens of Tallahatchie County acknowledge the horrific nature of this crime. Its legacy has haunted our community. We need to understand the system that encouraged these events and others like them to occur so that we can ensure that it never happens again. Working together, we have the power now to fulfill the promise of ‘liberty and justice for all.’”
Beginning in 2006 and continuing today, the second-floor courtroom has undergone restorations to mirror the way it appeared when Till’s trial happened in 1955. In 2007, the county courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“No field trip can rectify what happened, but I think this is one effort,” Duncan said. “But if this is all we do, it won’t be nearly enough. This is, however, a strong symbolic act, to visit this site. But it must be followed with actions.”
Kathryn Simmons, an African American first-year law student at Ole Miss, said that visiting the location where Till was murdered gave her perspective.
“For me, it gives me a place,” Simmons said. “It makes a place for people to not just be visible, but visible in a light that shows their truth and their story, which is something I can appreciate.”
For more information regarding the courthouse and the interpretive museum, visit the website Emmett-Till.org.