Twenty-six days after murdering Emmett, Bryant and Milam were acquitted by a jury that waited 67 minutes, a juror said, to ``drink a pop'' before embracing the defense argument that the body might not have been Emmett's. Bryant and Milam later told Look magazine they killed Emmett. They said they took turns smashing him across the head with the .45. But the trial was the first event to turn the gaze of American journalism to the causes of the coming civil rights storm.
A week after the acquittal, Simeon Wright's father, who testified against Bryant and Milam, left his car at the railroad station and went to Chicago. He never returned to Mississippi.
Others besides Bryant and Milam, both dead, may have been complicit in the killing. But beyond DNA proof that it was Emmett's body, it is unclear what forensic evidence his remains might provide to the Mississippi district attorney who sought the disinterment.
Martin Luther King came to Chicago in January 1966, but Simeon Wright says: ``I didn't qualify for Dr. King's march. They told us that if bricks and things were thrown at us, we couldn't retaliate. I couldn't do that. ... Now I'm back to what he was teaching.''
Wright says friends who only recently discovered his connection with the Till case say, ``He's so easy going!'' He says, ``I guess they think I'd be angry all the time. You don't live long that way.'' At the reinterment, he recited the first verse to ``Taps,'' which concludes: ``All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.'' He says, ``It got a little emotional then.''
Where do they come from, people like Simeon Wright, people of such resilience and grace? From Mississippi and Illinois. And everywhere else. They are all around us.
What has this country done -- what can any country do -- to deserve such people? Wrong question. They are this country.
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