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Simeon Wright remembered the last time he saw his cousin Emmett Till alive.
“We always — I mean always — had six months of fun at night (when we went to Greenwood), except that night,” Wright said. “We came home and got into our beds. Up until that point, the safest place in your home should be your bed, but that particular night, it became a room of horror.”
Emmett, a 14-year-old boy visiting family in Mississippi in 1955, whistled at Carolyn Brant, a white woman, and paid for it with his life. Brant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam were later accused of kidnapping and murdering Emmett.
Wright visited Weber State University to share his eyewitness account of Emmett being kidnapped. Wright began by telling what Emmett was like when they were children.
“He had hazel eyes, sandy hair and kind of stuttered when he talked,” Wright said. “His personality was a fun type who was always happy — always either telling a joke or wanting to hear one. He would even pay you just to hear you tell a joke.”
Before Emmett was kidnapped, he and Wright went to Greenwood, where Wright would go to relieve pressure from long months of continuous work. Wright said after Emmett was kidnapped, he knew that would be the last night he would see his cousin. Their family was torn as to whether or not they should testify about the kidnapping. During this time, it would have been very risky for their family to accuse white men of kidnapping. However, when authorities discovered Emmett’s body, they knew they had to.
“’If you kill me, go ahead, but I’m gonna testify,’” Wright said, quoting what his father said before the trial began. Wright and his father both testified, but it only took the all-white jury less than an hour to make a consensus. Roy Brant and Milam were acquitted.
After the trial, Wright and his family knew they had to move away and chose to move to Chicago, where they ended up staying permanently.
“I really believe in restorative justice,” said Forrest Crawford, a professor at Weber State University, who helped coordinate the event. “We can’t go back and fix humanity’s mistakes. However, we can go back and recognize what happened and try to fix the imperfections of humanity in order to make a better future.”
Crawford asked Wright when the convocation was over what he wanted the audience to take away from his talk.
“When we left that trial, I said we had nobody that helped us,” Wright said. “If you had been there, would you have helped us? When you leave here, I just want you to say, ‘Mr. Wright, I would have helped you.’”
Wright continues to be a civil rights activist and share his stories with schools around the country.
Wright wrote his own book for anyone who wants to know more about what happened to Emmett. “Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till” is available in bookstores and online.