Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Among the many pleasures of the Library of America’s new Reporting Civil Rights set is the reminder of what a great reporter and writer Murray Kempton was.

Here he is covering the trial for the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, in which Till’s uncle, Mose Wright, courageously points out the two murderers in court:

Mose Wright, making a formation no white man in his county really believed he would dare to make, stood on his tiptoes to the full limit of his sixty-four years and his five feet three inches yesterday, pointed his black, workworn finger straight at the huge and stormy head of J. W. Milam and swore that this was the man who dragged fourteen-year-old Emmett Louis Till out of his cottonfield cabin the night the boy was murdered.

“There he is,” said Mose Wright. He was a black pigmy standing up to a white ox. J. W. Milam leaned forward, crooking a cigaret in a hand that seemed as large as Mose Wright’s whole chest, and his eyes were coals of hatred.

Mose Wright took all their blast straight in his face, and then, for good measure, turned and pointed that still unshaking finger at Roy Bryant, the man he says joined Milam on the night-ride to seize young Till for the crime of whistling suggestively at Bryant’s wife in a store three miles away and three nights before.

“And there’s Mr. Bryant,” said Mose Wright and sat down hard against the chair-back with a lurch which told better than anything else the cost in strength to him of the thing he had done. He was a field Negro who had dared try to send two white men to the gas cham­ber for murdering a Negro.

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