Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005  

News: Missing Emmett Till transcript found

As you may already know, officials in Mississippi are considering reopening the Emmett Till case. The two men who admitted killing him, brothers Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, were acquitted by an all-white jury 50 years ago. Both have since died. However, several accomplices, who were never charged are still alive.

Today, the New York Times reports the F.B.I. has located the transcript from that long ago trial, in which there was no pretense of subtlety.

The F.B.I. said yesterday that it had obtained a copy of the long-lost transcript from the 1955 trial of two men in the murder of Emmett Till, the black teenager whose killing galvanized the civil rights movement and is the subject of a new inquiry.

The F.B.I. said it had obtained a copy of the transcript from the 1955 trial in the killing of Emmett Till, whose death galvanized the civil rights movement and has been the subject of a new inquiry.

The copy, described as faint and barely legible, is the only publicly known record of the trial, in which an all-white jury in Tallahatchie County, Miss., acquitted the defendants. Both men, who later confessed the crime to Look magazine, are now dead. The investigation seeks to determine whether anyone still living may also have been involved.

Emmett was a 14-year-old Chicagoan who was visiting relatives in the town of Money when, accused of whistling at a white woman, he was dragged from his bed, beaten beyond recognition and shot, his body dumped into the Tallahatchie River. A photograph of his grotesquely misshapen face at his funeral became emblematic of Jim Crow horror.

The pretext the jurors used for acquitting Bryant and Milam was that Till's body had not been clearly identified. It had the wink and nod quality of much discourse of Southern whites regarding blacks at the time. Since the defendants would have been responsible for disfiguring Till's body, the remarks were congratulatory -- 'y'all did a good job.' However, there was no legitimate reason to doubt the body was Till's. It was identified by his relatives, and, part of his face is still recognizable despite the disfiguration.

The district attorney for Tallahatchie County will make a decision whether to reopen the case in coming weeks or months.

posted by J. | 10:40 PM

Monday, May 16, 2005  

Commentary: Part 2: Subtlety and racism

Back, after a l-o-o-n-g time, to sublety and racism. I have decided to use other examples of what I see as blatant racism instead of the ones I originally intended. Situations that confirm the theme keep occurring. Two recent trials of white men who allegedy abused black victims in the South give reason for concern.

In the first, a 16-year-old high school student died in a fight at a house party. Six white youths, one of whom has been accused of racial bias in the past, were eventually charged. Eventually, because the indictments occurred only after civil rights groups in Maryland had prodded local prosecutors. The first defendant to be tried, allegedly the person who delivered the killing blow, was acquitted by an all-white jury.

The Baltimore Sun reports.

A Pasadena teen-ager was acquitted yesterday in the death of Noah Jamahl Jones, bringing to an end a racially charged trial and prompting nervous leaders in Anne Arundel County's black community to call for calm.

Jacob Tyler Fortney, 19, was found not guilty on all four counts, including the most serious, manslaughter. One of six friends charged in a fight last July, he was the first to be tried in a case that prompted a civil rights investigation by federal authorities.

The case against Fortney was presumed to be the strongest of all, and no trials were scheduled for the others pending its outcome. Lawyers for two of the other defendants urged prosecutors to drop charges, and the lead prosecutor in the case said he will begin looking at the rest of them today.

Would-be minority jurors were not only struck by the prosecution, but were asked if they were members of the NAACP or other civil rights groups, as if that would make them unfit for service.

In Texas, the case involved another party, and a retarded black man who unwittingly joined the crowd. Later, he was found beaten and deposited on a fire ant hill, apparently in hope the ants would pick up where his assailants left off. Two of the four defendants were convicted, but only of the lesser charges. Two others received very liberal plea bargains. The most severe sentence was 60 days in jail, and it was suspended. The victim will never recover from his injuries.

Fox News reported the story.

LINDEN, Texa - Citing the seriousness of the crime, a judge Friday added short jail terms to sentences recommended by juries for two of four men convicted of beating a mentally disabled black man and leaving him in a field.

All four could have faced 10 years in prison on the original charges in the 2003 beating of Billy Ray Johnson, who was found unconscious on a fire ant mound and now lives in a nursing home. But two of the men entered plea deals, and two were acquitted of the most serious counts.

Judge Ralph K. Burgessinvoked his right to add short jail terms for James Hicks and Christopher Amox. Both were convicted by a jury. Hicks, 26, received 10 years probation and 60 days behind bars. Amox, 20, got two years probation, a $4,000 fine and a 30-day jail sentence.

The judge sentenced Dallas Stone, 19, to five years probation, a $2,000 fine and 30 days in jail. The sentencing for John Wesley "Wes" Owens, 22, was delayed because of a scheduling conflict for his lawyer. Stone and Owens entered guilty pleas.

Hicks, who was a Cass County jailer at the time of the beating, Amox and Stone had no immediate comment after they were sentenced. Relatives of Johnson, 44, also declined comment.

In looking at these situations, I don't see sublety. A couple of commenters have pointed out that the fact African-Americans were present at parties hosted by whites in the South is progress. But, if the outcome of their presence was a maiming and a death, I've hard put to see how that is to be applauded. Furthermore, Maryland defense attorneys being allowed to question a jury panel about membership in the NAACP harkens back to the old Southern practice of portraying participation in civil rights groups as verboten. The word 'subtle' may often turn up in describing contemporary racism, but it seems to me it is often misused.

posted by J. | 10:30 PM