Bill Coate and students in a Madera Method classroom setting


By Bailey Giersch, Communications Technician

Madera Unified 8th-graders are correcting history by putting the horrific acts of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam on trial.

The year is 1955. 14-year-old Chicago-born, African American teenager Emmett Till is in Mississippi visiting relatives. When he goes to a convenience store, Till is accused of inappropriately flirting with Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old white woman, whose family owns the store. In 1955, and the height of Jim Crow Laws, this was considered highly offensive for a black male to do when interacting with a white female. Bryant’s husband, Roy, and Roy’s half-brother, J.W. Milam, abducted Till at 2 am on August 25th. Till’s horribly disfigured body was found in a river three days later. When it came time for these two men to be put on trial before an all-white jury, they were found not guilty. After the case was closed, and the two men could not be tried again, they admitted to their acts of murdering 14-year-old Till but endured no legal consequences.

Due to the injustice of Till’s case, and many cases like this throughout history, eighth-grade students from Eastin-Arcola and La Vina are participating in a mock trial on Wednesday, March 30th, of the same case of Till’s lynching. The students are led by the teaching and direction of Madera historian Bill Coate, who is teaching the students about the case and how to conduct the trial. The eighth-grade students will be taking the perspective of the prosecutor for the case, and this time, with an all-black jury. This jury will be members of the Black Student Union from Madera’s various high schools.

A month prior to conducting the trial, the students participated in a march to protest the verdict of Bryant and Milam. This took place from the District Office, down Yosemite Street, to the old courthouse. There, student speakers said a few words about their project and informed the community about their purpose behind it. The purpose of this protest, according to Coate in his interview with Madera Unified School District, is to “awaken the people of the injustice of the Emmett Till case.” This march took place on the last day of Black History Month, Monday, February 28th, 2022.

According to Coate, this project is incredibly important for students to partake in and learn from, and it will change them for the better. “An injustice that goes uncorrected is intolerable,” says Coate. Students are opening this case up, and learning about many realities of American history with the purpose of making it right.

Originally published in the We Believe Newspaper, March 2022

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