What is: a vacant lot, where Dr. TRM Howard lived, Mound Bayou, Mississippi.

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 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.

Several years later, Dr. Howard himself would be smuggled out of Mississippi to avoid a planned KKK hiton him.

You gotta admire Willie’s rules and have to just imagine the pant suits…His rules included no rap music, which he claimed he detested. Other rules included No loud music, no dope smoking.” Beer was to be purchased inside, but customers could bring in their own liquor.😁
What is: Po’ Monkey’s was founded by Willie Seaberry in 1963, and was one of the last rural juke joints in the Mississippi Delta, wedged between a cotton field and a gravel road just over a mile west of Merigold, Mississippi.
What was: The shack was originally sharecroppers’ quarters. The building is made of tin and plywood, held together by nails, staples, and wires, loosely fashioned and made by Seaberry. Seaberry was best known for his strangely coordinated outfits of wildly exotic pantsuits. He could be seen sneaking out of bar room, into a bedroom offset of the drinking quarters, only to reappear in a new pantsuit. Seaberry was found dead on July 14, 2016. Po’ Monkey’s ceased operating after Seaberry’s death. The contents, including Christmas lights, signs and X-rated toy monkeys that hung from the ceiling, were auctioned off in 2018. The PORCH (Preservation of Rural Cultural Heritage) Society and Shonda Warner acquired them and hope to maintain the collection in a way that continues to bring it to life.
Po’ Monkey’s gained international fame as one of the most important cultural sites related to blues and American music. The club was typical of modern juke joints in that it rarely featured live entertainment, although it sometimes did. Often instead, Seaberry played recorded music, typically soul and R&B, using a DJ or a jukebox, and patrons danced, mingled, or shot pool. He had a strict rule against playing rap music, which he claimed he detested. Other rules included No loud music, no dope smoking.” Beer was to be purchased inside, but customers could bring in their own liquor.
Classic juke joints are found at rural crossroads and catered to the rural work force that began to emerge after the emancipation. Plantation workers and sharecroppers needed a place to relax and socialize following a hard week, particularly since they were barred from most white establishments by Jim Crow laws. Set up on the outskirts of town, often in ramshackle, abandoned buildings or private houses — never in newly-constructed buildings — juke joints offered food, drink, dancing and gambling for weary workers.
Its got it all …music, a scarred place, roadside america…

What is: Sharecroppers home, hot tin roof at the edge of the Stovall Plantation

What was: The Stovall Plantation is about 6 miles northwest of Clarksdale.  It’s 4000 acres of cotton and soybeans and been in the family since 1836. Clarksdale made the blues and sent the music north; it was the starting point of the Great Migration during which 5 million blacks left the South from 1940 to the mid-’60s, each heading for a new life in the North.

McKinley Morganfield moved there when his mother died in 1915. He was just 3 years old, and he came to be raised by his grandmother in her sharecropper’s shack on the plantation. He picked up a nickname, Muddy Waters, and started fooling around with music in his early teens, first the harmonica, then guitar. He played all around town, at suppers and get-togethers; he played on the front porch of the shack, on Saturday nights turning the place into his own juke joint, complete with homemade whiskey.

It took years, but he built a reputation, and it brought him recognition before he was 30. In 1940, Alan Lomax, the folklore collector at the Library of Congress, traveled to the Delta to record the music of Robert Johnson, the undisputed wild man of blues music. Trouble was, Johnson had been dead for nearly three years, poisoned by strychnine-laced whiskey one hot Saturday night at a roadhouse in Three Forks. Legend has it he had been fooling around with the roadhouse owner’s wife, and that was that. Or maybe he was stabbed; after more than 50 years, details remain sketchy.

So Lomax discovered he’d missed Johnson, but he heard about this guy named Muddy Waters at the Stovall Plantation. Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/travel/1993/07/04/where-the-blues-were-born/8efc1c14-e178-45df-b79b-3e15ba8ea3f6/).

 

 

What is: The Magnolia Life Insurance Company, Mound Bayou, Mississippi

What was: Dr TRM Howard owned the Magnolia Life Insurance Company, based in Mound Bayou.

In 1952, after Medgar Ever’s graduation and after Myrlie’s sophomore year, the couple settled in Mound Bayou, the all black town in the Mississippi Delta. Medgar became an insurance agent for Magnolia Mutual Insurance, one of the few black-owned businesses in Mississippi where a young black person could get a decent job.

Dr. T.R.M. Howard, who owned the insurance company, also founded an organization called the Regional Council for Negro Leadership. Medgar became active with this group and deeply involved with poor black people. His travels as an insurance agent gave him a close, first-hand look at their conditions, convincing him that more had to be done for black sharecroppers.  It was largely because of Howard’s influence that Evers, from 1952 to 1954, not only traveled his Delta route selling insurance, but organized new chapters of the NAACP.

The NAACP organizing travels convinced Evers that Jim Crow rendered the state a virtual closed society and that mobilizing at the grassroots level was essential for building a movement for social change. Increasingly, too, Evers saw himself in the vanguard to put an end to Mississippi’s infrastructure of segregation. Other people in the still-young Mississippi Civil Rights Movement also began thinking of Evers as a leader.  Source:  https://www.mec.cuny.edu/history/struggle-of-medgar-evers/

What is: Fort Monroe, Hampton, Virginia

What was: Fort Monroe has an interesting place in American history.  In late August 1619, the first ship carrying “20 odd” enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort in Virginia, where Fort Monroe is today.  The Fort was built between 1819 and 1834 and occupied a strategic coastal defensive position since the earliest days of the Virginia Colony. During the Civil War, the Fort remained in Union possession and became a place of refuge for freedom seekers, earning the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress.”

Just six weeks after the Civil War began, three slaves – Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory – escaped from behind Confederate lines and sought refuge at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Commanding General Benjamin Butler refused to return the fugitives and declared the three men contraband of war. Soon, thousands of enslaved African Americans from all over the region descended on Fort Monroe in pursuit of freedom and sanctuary. This event fundamentally changed the meaning of the Civil War from states’ rights to the immorality of slavery, and marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States.  Fort Monroe became a refuge for those escaping enslavement, and was one of the first places enslaved people were granted freedom during the American Civil War.

While its location was the site of the first Africans who were traded as property, it’s also the place where — more than 240 years later — thousands of slaves found refuge and ultimately, their freedom, when Union forces did not return slaves to Confederate soldiers. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned here at the conclusion of the Civil War. Edgar Allen Poe and Harriet Tubman both spent time at Fort Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln stayed there during the assault on Norfolk, VA – the last time a sitting President was actively involved in a military campaign.

What is: Tobacco Farm Barns near Simsbury, CT

What was: In June 1944, trains carrying 185 students from Morehouse College in Atlanta arrived in a northern Connecticut town of Simsbury.  The students had arrived to work in the tobacco fields and harvest shade tobacco, then one of Connecticut’s biggest cash crops. These fields and barns are where Martin Luther King spent time working as a 15-year-old.  He would spend 2 summers working in the fields around Simsbury.

More than just a job, this was his first exposure to the Northeast and to a society that was not formally segregated.  He attended Simsbury churches, sang with the choir, enjoyed drugstore milkshakes and attended movies at Eno Hall. He made weekend visits to the “big city” of Hartford. In a letter to his mother in June 1944 he remarked that he had eaten in “one of the finest restaurants in Hartford” and that he had “never thought” that people of different races “could eat anywhere” together.

He wrote a week earlier of going to the same church in Simsbury as white people. His new calling as a religious leader was emerging, too.  “I have to speak on some text every Sunday to 107 boys. We really have good meetings,” he wrote.  MLK later credited that time with helping him decide to enter the clergy, which, in turn, led him to join the civil rights movement. Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/nyregion/martin-luther-king-in-connecticut-closer-to-a-promised-land.html

https://www.mlkinct.com/ and  Dr King in Simsbury

 

 

What is: The closed Strider Academy, a PK-12 school in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, which operated from 1971 until 2018.

What was: The school was established in 1971 as a segregation academy to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to racially integrated public schools.  Strider Academy was named for the sheriff who investigated and obstructed justice in the murder of Emmett Till.  He went on to become a state senator. Shortly before his death in 1970, Clarence Strider donated the land for Strider Academy.

The school campus suffered two fires in two weeks in August 1977. The main building and the field house were both destroyed. The FBI was involved in the investigation.  In 1989, Greenwood public schools trustee Jeff Milman resigned after the NAACP protested his decision to enroll his children in Strider Academy instead of racially integrated public schools. Milman stated that his children wanted to attend Strider and that it was closer to his residence.

Strider Academy said it admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and that it does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, tuition assistance programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.

However, as of 2016, the school’s students were 96% white. Filings for the 2015–16 school year indicates that all seventy-two students at the school were white. Tallahatchie County is 54% black.

What is: Tallahatchie Sheriff’s Office and Jail, Charleston, Mississippi

What was: An imposing man weighing 270 pounds, Strider was the sheriff of Tallahatchie County and a wealthy plantation owner in the heart of the cotton-growing Delta. His property could be identified from miles away by the letters S-T-R-I-D-E-R, which he insisted be painted on the roofs of sharecroppers’ shacks.  Strider was the first official to learn that a body had been discovered by a young man fishing in the Tallahatchie River.  He would also become the first person to question whether the body they found that day was a black man or even Emmett Till.

Originally Roy Bryant and half-brother JW Milan were arrested and held in Leflore County jail for kidnapping.  After an 18-member grand jury hearing held in Sumner issued indictments for kidnapping and murder on September 6, in Tallahatchie County, Milam and Bryant were moved to this jail in the Tallahatchie County seat at Charleston.

Carolyn Bryant’s “memoir” notes that one evening, she and her sister-in-law, Juanita Milam, were “smuggled” into the jail for a lovely dinner and evening with their husbands.  She also recounts an evening before the trial when Milam and Bryant showed up for a lovely extended family gathering at Leslie Milam’s plantation house (the same place where Emmett Till was tortured and murdered out in the shed).

There is another reason this jail has a strange place in the Emmett Till story.  At least two of JW Milan’s black employees were forced to be involved in Till’s kidnapping and murder. The employees were Levi “Too Tight” Collins and Henry Lee Loggins. Because Loggins and Collins were eyewitnesses to the murder they held the potential, if they could be found and convinced to testify, to fundamentally alter the legal proceedings.

Loggins and Collins, however, could not be found. According to one of the Black reporters covering the story, Jimmy Hicks, the men had been booked in this jail, in Charleston, 28 miles away from the trial, to preclude the possibility that they might be found and might testify. https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/7

What is: Emmett Till Memorial Highway, US 49E intersects with Mississippi Highway No. 32, Henry Clarence Strider Memorial Highway, near Webb, Mississippi

What was: An imposing man weighing 270 pounds, Strider was the sheriff of Tallahatchie County and a wealthy plantation owner in the heart of the cotton-growing Delta. His property could be identified from miles away by the letters S-T-R-I-D-E-R, which he insisted be painted on the roofs of sharecroppers’ shacks.

Strider was the first official to learn that a body had been discovered by a young man fishing in the Tallahatchie River. He hoped to bury the body right away, and even ordered Emmett Till’s Mississippi relatives to get his body in the ground by nightfall. Strider made the unusual move of testifying for the defense. He shed doubt on the identification of Emmett’s body, saying the corpse had been submerged too long to tell whether it was that of a white or a black person, suggesting the body might have been planted there by the NAACP.  He is also suspected of helping hide several witnesses so they could not be found to testify.His testimony bolstered the main defense argument: Emmett Till was still alive and well, living in Detroit with his grandfather. After the verdict was announced, Strider publicly congratulated the defendants. Source: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-biography-sheriff-clarence-strider/

In 1972, 2 years after Strider died of a heart attack, a portion of Mississippi Highway No. 32 running between Webb and Charleston in Tallahatchie County was named the Henry Clarence Strider Memorial Highway.  In 2005, 50 years after Emmett Till was lynched in one of the most infamous crimes of the civil rights era, a stretch of Mississippi highway was dedicated to him. It is a section of the highway his body traveled to be sent back to Chicago.

The Strider and Till highways intersect near Webb, Mississippi.

What is: The old steel mill wheel at the front of Tredegar iron works which is today the main visitor center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park and the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.

What was: the iron works plant in Richmond opened in 1837 by a group of businessmen and industrialists who sought to capitalize on the Transportation Revolution. Tredegar operated on hydro power by harnessing the James River and the canal. The plant employed skilled domestic and foreign workers as well as slaves and free blacks. By 1860 it was the largest facility of its kind in the South – a contributing factor to the choice of Richmond as the capital of the confederacy.

It produced the steel for the first Confederate ironclad ship, as well as about half of the artillery production. It also manufactured steam locomotives, rail spikes and clamps. The iron works is one of the few Civil War era buildings that survived the burning of Richmond.

Tredegar began producing again by the end of 1865. By 1873 it employed 1,200 workers and was profitable business. The financial panic of 1873 hit the company hard and it did not make the transition to steel. The Tredegar company remained in business throughout the first half of the 20th century, and supplied requirements of the armed forces of the United States during World War I and World War II.

The company name Tredegar derives from the Welsh industrial town that supplied much of the company’s early workforce.