The Emmett Till Project 2021-22
In August 2021, the 8th-grade classes in Eastin-Arcola and La Vina Schools began another Jim Crow project. It was a sequel to the Jim Crow project that had been completed the previous year in the same schools. Piqued by the earlier project, these students wanted to dig a little deeper. They wanted to study Jim Crow, not only in Madera but in the entire nation.
Their study revealed examples of Jim Crow culture across the country. They learned about separate schools, transportation, eating facilities, and de jure and de facto segregation in general. Then they discovered Jim Crow in the extreme—the inevitable result of authorized racism—violence. They discovered scores of lynchings, especially across the South. This of course led them to Money, Mississippi in August 1955 and the murder of Emmett Till.
At first, the students were gripped by the fact that Emmett was only 14 years old—their age. Then they were appalled by the fact that Emmett Till’s killers were tried and found Not Guilty. They were further enraged when they learned that the murderers later openly confessed to the crime in a magazine article for which they were paid.
Faced with this injustice, the young historians embraced a plan of action. They would hold a trial and prosecute the killers in absentia (both men were deceased).
On February 28, the students held a march to protest the murder of Emmett and to announce their plans to hold the trial.
On March 30, the young historians went to court. Superior Court Judge Ernie LiCalsi presided over the trial, and Sheriff Tyson Pogue served as bailiff. The students prosecuted the case. The jury, which was composed of members of the Madera chapter of the NAACP, rendered a guilty verdict.
The story of the Emmett Till project has been prepared for publication. The book will be entitled, “Avenging the Blood of Emmett Till: A Courtroom Saga.”
The film features a trial culminating in an action learning project where 8th-grade students from La Vina and Eastin-Arcola Elementary School, who are here in the audience today, researched how Jim Crow laws impacted people during the 1950s and today. Through their research, students discovered the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy. The students were stunned by the crime and shocked that the men tried for Emmett Tills’ murder were found “Not Guilty.” Along with leadership from their advisor Bill Coate and their teachers Scott Gandy, and Samuel Colunga, the students decided to correct this historical injustice by putting Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam on trial. Madera Unified’s Communication team captured the student’s journey and produced the video documentary.