Using personal interviews conducted with jurors, law enforcement officials, lawyers, and other people involved with the trial of Emmett Till, this essay argues that a guilty verdict in the case was a foregone conclusion. Despite evidence that the body discovered in the Tallahatchie River was in fact that of Emmett Till, local Mississippians rallied around Roy Bryant and J .W. Milam. In addition, personal interviews suggest that two black men were purposefully hidden in a local Charleston, Mississippi, jail in order to limit the prosecution's case.
Mississippi newspapers were fundamental to creating a climate of public opinion that enabled Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam to go free in the trial of Emmett Till. Using newspaper stories, photographs, letters to the editor, and editorials from nine different Mississippi newspapers, I argue that themes of race, gender, class, and sexuality are pivotal to understanding the construction of key players in the trial. In addition, published comments by Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Till's mother, Mamie Till Bradley, greatly altered the discursive landscape, transforming Emmett Till from an innocent boy into a menacing male. Similarly, Bryant and Milam morphed from local peckerwoods to heroic defenders of the country generally and Southern white womanhood particularly.
The widely disseminated image of Emmett Till's mutilated corpse rhetorically transformed the lynched black body from a symbol of unmitigated white power to one illustrating the ugliness of racial violence and the aggregate power of the black community. This reconfiguration was, in part, an effect of the black community's embracing and foregrounding Till's abject body as a collective "souvenir" rather than allowing it to be safely exiled from public life.
Widely recognized for its historical significance, the Montgomery bus boycott is understudied as a rhetorical phenomenon. This essay analyzes the protest's first oration, King's Holt Street Address, arguing that the text interacts with a rich discursive field, interprets that field to unify the black community and constrain its modes of protest, and anticipates a metaphysical foundation in King's philosophy of nonviolence. Although King's "interpretive persuasion" was instrumental in the boycott's success, it also effaced the protest's gender and class tensions.