Cowards Behind Sheets: 10 of the Worst Crimes Committed by the Ku Klux Klan
Cowards Behind Sheets: 10 of the Worst Crimes Committed by the Ku Klux Klan

Cowards Behind Sheets: 10 of the Worst Crimes Committed by the Ku Klux Klan

Patrick Lynch - February 15, 2018

Cowards Behind Sheets: 10 of the Worst Crimes Committed by the Ku Klux Klan
Emmett Till and Carolyn Bryant – The Grio

9 – The Murder of Emmett Till – 1955

This was one of the most notorious Klan crimes of the 21st century and was arguably the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant who worked as a cashier in the town of Money, Mississippi. Four days later, Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, kidnapped and beat 14-year old Till before shooting him in the head. This disgusting crime took place on August 28, 1955, and on November 1, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus in Montgomery. Parks later wrote that “the news of Emmett’s death caused me… to participate in the cry for justice and equal rights.”

Till was born in Chicago in 1941 and was visiting relatives in Money in August 1955. On August 24, Till spoke to Bryant in a small grocery store and was accused of flirting and whistling at the cashier. Decades later, Bryant admitted that allegations of Till being menacing and sexually crude towards her were not true. Indeed, what happened on that day is still a matter of dispute. The only thing that’s clear is that whatever Till’s conduct if he was even guilty of anything untoward, did not warrant the death penalty.

Till probably whistled at Bryant as she left the store; an act that broke the well-known taboo relating to social conduct between the races in the South. Coming from a big city, young Emmett was probably unaware of this unwritten rule. In any case, Till’s cousin, Simeon Wright, knew there could be trouble and drove away from the scene as fast as he could. On August 26, Bryant’s husband, Roy, returned to town after being away hauling shrimp in Texas.

Roy heard rumors of what happened while in town and confronted his wife. After she told him her version of events, he resolved to kidnap Till and teach him a lesson. With the aid of his half-brother, J. W. Milam, his wife, and a black man named Johnny Washington, Bryant went looking for Till. Bryant caught and beat one black teenager, but it was a case of mistaken identity. At around 2:30 am, Bryant and Milam learned that Till was staying at the house of Moses Wright. They kidnapped him and probably shot him in Leslie Milam’s barn. They tied a fan to Till’s neck with barbed wire and threw him in the Tallahatchie River.

Till’s body was found three days later, and an estimated 50,000 people filed past his coffin in the funeral chapel. Although Bryant and Milam admitted kidnapping Till, they claimed they let him go in the town of Money. With the aid of the County Sheriff, H. C. Strider, the two men were acquitted despite overwhelming evidence against them. Strider even claimed that the body in the river wasn’t Till’s. After deliberating for just 67 minutes, the all-white, all-male jury allowed Bryant and Milam to walk free. The local Citizen’s council, a KKK offshoot, visited the jury to ensure they voted the ‘right’ way Once again, the vile racists had escaped justice.

Cowards Behind Sheets: 10 of the Worst Crimes Committed by the Ku Klux Klan
Jason Smith – Urban Intellectuals

10 – The Mysterious Death of Jason Smith – 2011

This is unquestionably a controversial entry as the unexplained death of Jason Smith hasn’t even been classified as murder. However, it has to be one of the strangest cases of accidental drowning ever recorded. When 14-year old Smith was found dead in a local lake in Eros, Louisiana on June 6, 2011, it barely made a dent in news cycles. After all, it was just a simple case of a teenage boy getting himself in trouble and drowning. However, the African-American boy was missing his organs.

His family are convinced that he was killed by local KKK members but given the complete lack of investigation into the most unusual of deaths, it is impossible for them to prove anything. A petition was created to call for a further investigation, but it was closed as it only gained around 1,000 petitions.

Smith’s family say that not only is their son’s killer a Klan member; he is also the son of an FBI agent. Those who read this piece probably think it seems a little far-fetched but how else can you explain how this bizarre case suddenly ended up being of the ‘open and shut’ variety? If his death was accidental, why did he have no organs? Disturbingly, Smith’s parents believe their son suffered horribly before he died. They are of the opinion that he was raped before his murder.

Perhaps his death has an even darker undertone. According to the World Health Organization, at least 7,000 kidneys are harvested each year illegally, not to mention other stolen organs. Other cases of black men being found dead without organs include Kendrick Johnson, Vance Anderson, and Ryan Singleton. Although the possibility that Smith died at the hands of a KKK member remains strong, was he murdered so his organs could be sold on the black market?

 

Sources

1963 Birmingham Church Bombing Fast Facts – CNN

These Unforgettable Images Expose the Horror of the Tulsa Race Riots – Huffington Post by Lilly Workneh

The Greensboro Massacre: Nov. 3, 1979: A Day That Still Divides City By Joe Killian

The Lynching: A Powerful look at 1981 Klan Murder in Mobile – AL.com by Lawrence Specker

Murder, Memory and the Klan: A Special Report; Widow Inherits a Confession to a 36-year old hate crime – New York Times by Adam Nossiter

Klan Murders Senator Stephens – History Engine

Biography.com – Emmett Till

Famous Trials – The Emmett Till Murder Trial: An Account

Murder in Mississippi – PBS.org

Reckoning with the Ghost of Jim Williams – Oxford University Press Blog

Change.org – Petition to reopen investigation of Jason Smith’s murder

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