What is: Sunflower County Seed Barn, Sunflower County, MS

What was: This barn is the location where Emmett Till was beaten and, most likely, murdered. The barn is on what was then Leslie Milam’s (the brother of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant) plantation.

According to the testimonies of Willie Reed, his grandfather Add Reed, and Mandy Bradley during the murder trial, this barn was where Emmett Till was taken the night that he was kidnapped. Willie Reed testified to seeing a white pickup with four white men and three black men–one on the floor and two sitting on the rails beside him–pull up to the barn. Soon after, he heard what sounded like a person being badly beaten inside of the barn. Willie Reed then saw J.W. Milam come out of the barn, get a drink of water, and return to the barn. (1) Add Reed supported Willie Reed’s testimony, claiming to have seen J.W. Milam and the white truck. Mandy Bradley testified that she saw the men going in and out of the barn around 6:30-7:00am. She saw the men back the truck into the shed, then drive away. (2)

The testimonies of Willie Reed, Add Reed, and Mandy Bradley had the potential to upset the Emmett Till murder trial, as their testimony revealed that the murder actually occurred in Sunflower County, not in Tallahatchie County, which would shift the jurisdiction of the courts. However, the trial remained in Tallahatchie County.

Following their testimony, Willie Reed, Add Reed, and Mandy Bradley all had to flee Mississippi.

This site has often been written out of the Emmett Till narrative due to William Bradford Huie’s article in LOOK Magazine. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam could not be tried again for Emmett Till’s murder due to double jeopardy laws, but the other people involved in the murder, namely Leslie Milam who owned the barn where the murder took place, could still be prosecuted. Huie needed signed consent forms from each person involved in the murder to publish the article, so Huie re-wrote the story of the murder to involve only Milam and Bryant, changing the location of the murder to a barn near Glendora, MS in Tallahatchie County.  As Dave Tell et al. note, “Although it is wrong, Huie’s story has been so influential that every single map published on the Till murder between the publication of LOOK’s article in January 1956 and 2005 left the Milam Plantation off the map entirely.” (3)

The barn is now under private ownership.

For more, visit the Emmett Till Interpretive Center

Source: https://www.tillnationalpark.org/sunflower-county-seed-barn

Footnotes 1. Devery Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement, University Press of Mississippi, 2015, pp. 128-9.

  1. ibid, p. 133.
  2. Dave Tell, Davis Houck, Pablo Correa & the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, “Seed Barn, Milam Plantation,” Emmett Till Memory Project, 2021, https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/4

What is: fields and fields and fields of cotton…some growing, some harvested, some planted.

What was: “Cotton is King” In the years before the Civil War—American planters in the South continued to grow tobacco and rice but Cotton emerged as the antebellum South’s major commercial crop. Cotton was one of the world’s first luxury commodities, after sugar and tobacco. By 1860, the southern states were producing two-thirds of the world’s cotton.

In 1793, Eli Whitney revolutionized the production of cotton when he invented the cotton gin, a device that separated the seeds from raw cotton, rather than requiring all manual labor. The cotton gin allowed a slave to remove the seeds from fifty pounds of cotton a day, compared to one pound if done by hand. After the seeds had been removed, the cotton was pressed into bales. These bales, weighing about four hundred to five hundred pounds, were wrapped in burlap cloth and sent down the Mississippi River.

Nearly all the exported cotton was shipped to Great Britain, fueling its burgeoning textile industry at the time. They also shipped to mills in the northern US. The South’s dependence on cotton was matched by its dependence on slaves to harvest the cotton. Some southerners believed that their region’s reliance on a single cash crop and its use of slaves to produce it gave the South economic independence and made it immune from the effects of industrialization that were occurring in the North. Between the years 1820 and 1860, approximately 80 percent of the global cotton supply was produced in the United States. Source: http://pressbooks-dev.oer.hawaii.edu/ ushistory/chapter/the-economics-of-cotton/

What is: a vacant lot, where Dr. TRM Howard lived, Mound Bayou, Mississippi.  His place burned down several years ago.

What was: Mound Bayou is 42 miles away from Sumner, MS where the Emmett Till trial occurred. However, it is an essential place in civil rights history for numerous reasons, but among them was that Mound Bayou and Dr. Howard’s house in particular, provided protection for witnesses, a home base for the black press, and a refuge for Till’s mother Mamie Till-Bradley. Without Mound Bayou and Dr Howard we would likely still not know what happened to Emmett Till.

Dr. Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard was a legendary Mississippi activist and his charismatic style meant that threats on his life were common. In the years before Till was murdered, Howard already had a $1,000 price tag on his life. He traveled with armed bodyguards, and his home featured twenty-four-hour-a-day armed protection.  You get a sense of his home in #Tillthemovie

The sheer security of the Howard home explains why so many African Americans stayed with him when they came to Mississippi for the Till trial. It is why Till’s mother Mamie Till-Bradley, Michigan Congressman Charles C. Diggs, and other African Americans used the Howard home as their base camp.  Howard provided the motorcade that protected Mamie Till when she attended the trial.  Local stories tell of Mamie being wrapped up in a carpet on the floor of a car, as the body guards drove the 40 miles to court.

It was Howard’s home where on Sunday, September 18, 1955, around midnight when a young black plantation worker named Frank Young arrived claiming he had direct evidence linking J. W. Milam, Roy Bryant, and four others to the murder. He also broke the then-shocking news that Till had been killed in Sunflower County. He told Howard that, at approximately 6 am on August 28, Till had been conveyed via a pickup truck with four white people in the front and three African Americans in the back (including Till) to the seed barn on the Milam Plantation operated by J. W. Milam’s brother Leslie.

Young also told Howard that witnesses heard desperate screams emanating from that seed barn; that they saw J. W. Milam emerge from the barn for a drink of water; that the screams gradually faded; and that a body was taken from the barn, covered with a tarpaulin, and placed in the back of a truck. He further assured Howard that this entire story could be verified by five Black witnesses: himself, Willie Reed, Add Reed, Walter Billingsley, and Amanda Bradley.

The next evening (after the first day of the trial was complete), Howard called a strategy meeting at his home in Mound Bayou. Present at the meeting were NAACP officers Medgar Evers and Ruby Hurley and three influential members of the Black press: James Hicks, L. Alex Wilson (Tri-State Defender), and Simeon Booker (Jet). Although Hurley, Booker, and Hicks wanted to go public with the story immediately, Howard prevailed upon them to hold the story until the safety of the five witnesses could be found and their safety assured. They agreed to contact the state’s lawyers through a trusted member of the white press, the Memphis Press-Scimitar’s Clark Porteous.

Although T.R.M. Howard is generally remembered for his 1951 founding of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, Howard’s civil rights credentials were vast. He organized a non-violent movement in the Mississippi Delta four years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott (and three years before Emmett Till’s murder), he organized annual civil rights rallies, and he stoked Medgar Evers’ nascent activism by hiring him.

Several years after the Till trial, Dr. Howard himself would be smuggled out of Mississippi as a KKK hit was planned on him.

Source: https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/10

 

 

What is: Pottery School, Pamunkey Indian Reservation, King William County, Virginia.  Home of the Pamunkey Potter’s Guild since the early 1930s.

What was: Pottery production for Virginia’s indigenous peoples began roughly three millennia prior to contact with Europeans. From its beginning to approximately five decades after European contact, the ceramics of Virginia’s coastal plains consisted of small to large wide-mouthed jars with conoidal bodies and rounded bases. Ceramics were produced and used on a household basis for a multitude of purposes including cooking and storage. The period of initial European contact resulted in the first marked shift in European influence on Pamunkey pottery production in which pottery shifted from production for consumption to production for exchange.

During the nineteenth century, the Pamunkey potters had a thriving peddlers’ trade throughout the Peninsula area. Many believed that this activity was ruined by the construction of the York and Richmond Railroad in 1854 and the traumatic events surrounding the Civil War and resulting disruption of life in King William county area. Reconstruction, would, of course, take a further toll. By the beginning of the 20th century, only a handful of potters remained, but all the senior members of the community could recall a day when their grandparents made a living, at least in part, from peddling their stewing pots, milk pans, and other pottery vessels throughout the country.

Today, the Pamunkey Reservation consists of 1,200 acres. That is 7% of the land originally granted by the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation.

 

 

What is: The lot where Aaron Henry’s 4th St. Drug Store was located, Clarksdale, MS

What was: Aaron Henry was born in 1922, the son of sharecroppers.  He joined other members of his family and worked the cotton fields on the Flowers Plantation outside of Clarksdale.   He was drafted into the United States Army in 1943 and served in segregated units in the Pacific theatre. He decided then that when he returned home to Mississippi, he would work to gain equality and justice for Black Americans.

He used the G. I. Bill, a law that provided educational benefits for World War II veterans, to attend Xavier College (now Xavier University) in New Orleans. Graduating in 1950 with a pharmaceutical degree, he returned to Clarksdale and opened the Fourth Street Drug Store along with K. W. Walker, a White Mississippian. It was the only Black-owned drugstore in the area. As Henry recalled, “Our drugstore was to become the gathering place and the hub for political and civil rights planning for three decades.” including voter registration and boycotts of downtown merchants. But being in the movement had its costs. During his fight for civil rights, Henry was arrested more than thirty times, his wife was fired from her job as a teacher, and both their home and his store were firebombed.

Dr. Aaron E. Henry was a prominent NAACP leader, state and national political figure. He served as a mentor to many of the young kids involved in the 1960s civil rights efforts.  Henry once said that his grandmother had inspired him to become involved in the struggle for civil rights. She told him he was just as worthy of justice as any White man and that “they put on their pants the same way you do, one leg at a time.”

Historian John Dittmer noted, ““That he [Henry] stayed in Mississippi, and for the next three decades fought for human rights in a different political environment is a tribute both to his commitment and to his under-appreciated role as Mississippi’s most important black politician since Reconstruction.”  He was one of the most important of mentors for SNCC activists when they came to Mississippi.

Source: https://mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/issue/aaron-henry-a-civil-rights-leader-of-the-20th-century

What is: The parking lot and stairs to the balcony entrance of the Paramount Movie Theatre, Clarksdale, Mississippi

What was: This old, covered stairway in a parking lot behind the Paramount Movie Theatre in downtown Clarksdale is the entrance for blacks to the segregated balcony in the movie theatre. White people entered the theatre on the main level and at the front entrance on Yazoo Street, under neon lights.

Opened as the Marion Theatre in 1918, it became the Paramount in 1931 and closed in 1976. Civil right activists picketed the theater in the 1960’s, and it was desegregated in 1965.

What is: The Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale, MS

What was: Previously the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital where Bessie Smith died in 1937, it was transformed into a hotel by Mrs. Z. L. Ratliff in 1944. The Riverside Hotel opened for business in 1944. Mrs. Hill purchased the building in 1957 and it has remained in the hands of the Ratliff family to this day.

As one of the only African American hotels in Jim Crow Mississippi, it was listed in the Greenbook and played host to a Who’s Who of blues and R&B legends including Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sam Cooke whose legendary song, “A Change is Gonna Come” is believed to reference the nearby Sunflower River.” Others, including Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Robert Nighthawk, liked the place so much they moved in.

Ike Turner was living here in 1951 when he and fellow Clarksdalian Jackie Brenston wrote, rehearsed here (and then recorded at Sun Studio’s) what many consider the first rock ‘n roll song, “Rocket 88.”

It was a safe space for traveling musicians and became a community hub and the most blues-historic hotel in the world.

The Riverside Hotel is the only blues hotel that is still Black-owned in Clarksdale. But the building, which has not been operational since storm damage in April 2020, needs significant rehabilitation. The family is determined to continue to honor the legacy of their family and restore and reopen its doors.  In 2021 it was recognized as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.

The Ratliff family is looking for donors and partnerships to ensure that this invaluable history is here for generations to come! Please donate to support its’ preservation. Source: http://www.riversideclarksdale.com/

What is: This is just around the corner from where Muddy Waters lived on the Stoval Plantation, Abandoned Sharecropping Home at the edge of the fields, Stovall Plantation, MS

What was: Typical sharecropper shack was usually located with the crop entirely surrounding the house. After the Civil War, former slaves sought jobs, and planters sought laborers. The absence of cash or an independent credit system led to the creation of sharecropping.

Sharecropping is a system where the landlord/planter allows a tenant to use the land in exchange for a share of the crop. This encouraged tenants to work to produce the biggest harvest that they could, and ensured they would remain tied to the land and unlikely to leave for other opportunities.

In the South, after the Civil War, many black families rented land from white owners and raised cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and rice. In many cases, the landlords or nearby merchants would lease equipment to the renters, and offer seed, fertilizer, food, and other items on credit until the harvest season. At that time, the tenant and landlord or merchant would settle up, figuring out who owed whom and how much.

High interest rates, unpredictable harvests, and unscrupulous landlords and merchants often kept tenant farm families severely indebted. Approximately two-thirds of all sharecroppers were white, and one third were black. Source: PBS’s Slavery By Another Name, https://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/sharecropping/

 

What is: General Grant’s cabin at the Eppes Plantation

What was: For nearly a year, General Grant occupied a tent and later a cabin here, while he commanded his army in the final months of the Civil War. Grant hosted several visiting dignitaries, including Secretary of State William Seward, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and President Lincoln visited the site during the siege in 1864-5.

Grant chose the Eppes family Appomattox Plantation at City Point (now Hopewell, VA) for his headquarters and supply depot because of its strategic location, situated on a bluff overlooking the James and Appomattox rivers. It had a port and railroad access.  There was a telegraph station constructed in the house.  The Appomattox Plantation became central for the offices of the Quartermaster.

Grants operation occupied most of the front lawn, 22 log structures, as a major supply center serving 100,000 men who were besieging Petersburg and Richmond.  His supply base at City Point was one of the world’s busiest seaports and combined with the use of the Military Railroad for communication and transportation. The successful capture of Petersburg and its network of railroads was the key to the fall of the Confederate capital city of Richmond, ending the war less than a week later.

By May 1865 Dr. Richard Eppes had taken the Amnesty Oath but found that due to his wealth he did not qualify to benefit from the Amnesty Proclamation. He had to raise money to obtain the title to his land and to settle up with the Federal government, including purchase the structures the Union army left behind on his land before he could touch them. By early 1866, after a favorable transaction with the government, the plantation was back in his hands and by March his family was together again at City Point.

A major limitation to our understanding of the enslaved community is due to limited surviving archaeological sites. The family’s financial situation in the early twentieth century led to the sale of the Hopewell and Bermuda Hundred Farms, destroying the archaeological record of the slave quarters there.

 

What is: Appomattox Manor at City Point, Virginia, the town is now known as Hopewell, VA. It is most well known as Grants headquarters, part of the Petersburg National Battlefield

What was: The area around the plantation was first settled in 1613. Captain Francis Eppes originally acquired a large tract of land in 1635, encompassing area known as City Point, along the James River. Today the town is known as Hopewell, VA. The property remained in the Eppes family until 1979.

In 1844, at the age of 20, Dr. Richard Eppes, who had had earned his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania, inherited his ancestral home, Appomattox Manor at City Point, Virginia. When war broke out, Eppes enlisted in the 3rd Virginia cavalry and helped to equip the unit. Eppes then became a civilian contract surgeon for the Confederate army in Petersburg for the duration of the war.
Prior to the Civil War, Eppes owned nearly 130 slaves and 2,300 acres. The slaves performed the hard labor on this estate, as well as all the household functions. Eppes recorded truancy in labor, feigned illnesses, and theft of food. Most of the punishments for those people consisted of a reduction of rations or a whipping.

Just days after a Union raiding party landed at City Point, the Eppes’ family departed and all but 12 of the slaves cast their fortunes with the Union army. When General grant arrived at City Point he established his headquarters in a tent on the east lawn of Dr. Richard Eppes’ plantation. From tents on the east lawn, replaced in the winter with cabins, Grant and his officers coordinated the Union campaign. President Lincoln visited City Point twice during the siege to meet with his top military officers, and tour the Depot Field Hospital, the largest of the four military hospitals. Source: National Parks Service, Petersburg National Battlefield, Virginia

 

What is: The Pecos Mission circa 1717, as restored with archaeological ruins around them

What Was: Native people inhabited the Pecos Valley for 1200 years. Pecos was one of the largest and most powerful pueblos. In the early 1600s the Spanish established churches. The Spanish arrival brought sweeping changes impacting the lives of the Pecos people. Spaniards actively tried to eradicate every aspect of the ancestral pueblo life.

In August of 1680, the Pueblos revolted, driving the Spaniards out. They destroyed the church. By 1690s the Spanish returned and by the early 1700s there was a new church built. By the 1780s disease, raids and drought decimated the population. From 1821 to 1880, the area was a major trade route between Missouri and Santa Fe.