- Emmett Till Goes Skip-Stopping on the CTA*
Cast of Characters
Emmett Till, also known as Bo, has just turned 14 (in July) and is getting ready to start 8th grade. A fun-loving and intelligent boy, he is known for telling jokes and playing tricks. He talks with a slight stutter as a result of having polio early in life.
Mamie Till, Emmett’s 33-year old mother, is a widow whose husband died in WWII. She is solely responsible for raising her only child. Hard working and religious, Mamie Till grew up in the Delta, witnessing lynchings and other racial atrocities, but emigrated to Chicago, regarded as the land of milk and honey by blacks escaping racial oppression in Mississippi.
Nat, a classmate of Emmett’s, about his age, but unlike Emmett, he is the cynic in the crowd, and often the butt of the boys’ jokes.
Malcolm, another classmate of Emmett’s, but lacks his imagination and curiosity.
LeRoy, another of Emmett’s friends and classmates, skinny, given to tough language, and often critical of Emmett’s imagination.
Chicago in mid to late August 1955. Mamie’s small apartment on the Southeast side; at an L station where the boys wait for their train; on an L car as it travels from the Southeast side of the city and around the Loop and back to the Southside; at the Illinois Central station. [End Page 392]
It is a sweltering Chicago midsummer in Mamie Till’s kitchen, 1955. She does not have a fan but the windows are open. There is a table covered with a flowered plastic tablecloth with an open Bible on it, and next to the table is a bird cage with a yellow canary that chirps occasionally throughout the scene. The time is about 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night just before supper and Mamie, exhausted from a day of hard work, sits reading the Chicago Defender when Emmett comes in. When he talks to her, he stutters on key words and phrases marked throughout. In three or four places, she attempts to wind a stubborn alarm clock that just doesn’t want to work. A large digital clock sits in the corner of Mamie’s kitchen. There is never a reference to this clock, but it registers changing time very quickly. The minute and hour hands move twenty or thirty times faster than they would in real time.
Mama, can I go skip-stoppin (he stutters on this word) on the CTA?
What in the name of the Lord is skip-stoppin and what are you doin on the CTA? You didn’t leave the neighborhood while I was at work, child, did you? (She attempts to rewind the alarm clock to make it work. It doesn’t and all she can do is sigh.)
No, Mama. My friends and I just want to see some of the big town and we can just by hoppin on a Green Hornet or an L car.
Couldn’t you fly faster on a bumble bee, son.
O, Mama, I’m bein serious. We wait for certain connectin buses, streetcars, L cars, or electric buses that come our way and then get a whole lot of life quick-like.
And that’s what you call skip-stoppin?
Yes, Mama. It’s all ok. There’s nothin wrong. The CTA says is all right. (“Time just keeps skippin, skippin by” from Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” plays in the background.)
Well, I don’t. I don’t want you hangin round with a bunch of rowdy boys and go all over this city. God knows what could happen to you. You might get shot full of holes.
O, Mama, how can I get into trouble for 20 cents.
That’s a one-way fare. I’d like you to come back—and alive!
All right, Mama. Forty cents will give me a round trip, right back to your waitin arms. [End Page 393]
Boys have gotten killed for far less, God bless their souls...