3
Mississippi: "Is This America?" A Case Study of the Movement

THE CLOSED SOCIETY

On July 2, 1946, Medgar Evers, a black native of Mississippi and a World War II combat veteran, along with several other black Gls, headed down to the courthouse in Evers's hometown of Decatur, Mississippi. Evers hoped to celebrate his return from service and his twenty-first birthday by voting in the Democratic primary. When the group arrived at the courthouse, however, they encountered a mob of fifteen to twenty armed white men intent on stopping them or any other blacks from exercising their franchise. "We had all seen a lot of dead people on Omaha beach," Evers recalled. "All we wanted to be was ordinary citizens. We fought during the war for America, Mississippi included. Now after the Germans and Japanese hadn't killed us, it looked as though white Mississippians would." Rather than risk sure death, Evers and the other black veterans retreated. Even in retreat Evers could see a white man with a gun "keeping a bead on us all the time," a reminder of the precariousness of the life of a black person in Mississippi.1

Nearly a decade later, in August 1955, Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black youth from Chicago, traveled to Money, Mississippi, to visit with his mother's family. Shortly after he arrived, Till, his cousins, and their friends ventured to the town drugstore to buy some candy. On his way out of the store, Till allegedly whistled at and said "bye baby" to the female shopkeeper. Later that night, the shopkeeper's husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, knocked at the door of the home of Mose Wright, Till's great-uncle, where Till was staying. Shining a flashlight into Wright's

-59-

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