Student brings Emmett Till to life

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In August 1955, 14-year-old Chicago native Emmett Till committed a crime that cost him his life—whistling at a White woman in Money, Mississippi. Till was abducted, beaten beyond recognition and thrown into a river for breaking one of the South’s unwritten Jim Crow Laws restricting interaction between African-American males and Caucasian females. 

Sophomore broadcast productions major from Durham, Kevin Wilson, Jr., took on the responsibility of retelling this horrific story that brought light to the injustices that occurred in the South through a tale that many still remember to this day.

Sunday, April 19, Aggies and surrounding residents gathered in Harrison Auditorium to watch Wilson’s interpretation of the historic event titled, “The Emmett Till Story.” The auditorium was packed as many were turned away before the show began.

“This particular story was a story that I thought as the most important ignored story of our time,” Wilson said as he reminds us that this event did not occur too long ago. “It’s not going to take just Barack Obama. It’s going to take all of us. It’s going to take a collaborative effort of people—Black and White.”

Brad Perry, a sophomore electronics major from Wake Forest played Emmett Till’s father, Louis Till, in the production and felt like it’s a story that people are aware of, but don’t know the full extent of its details. The flyer for the production read, “Change? Yeah right, things haven’t changed!!”

“Change will only happen when Black people come together and unite instead of looking out for themselves,” Perry said. “Emmett was given up by a Black women in this story—his own kind.”

Wilson firmly believes that hatred and prejudice still exist in our nation today and he observes how it occurs, not only against another race or minority but within ourselves as Blacks.

“This one just kind of hit home and near the end of the play before Emmett was killed, he repeated the line, ‘I’m not a nigger,'” Wilson said. “That’s not just for Whites, but for Blacks as well because we’re calling each other these words and we don’t understand the meaning. We can argue the difference between a nigger and a nigga but there is no difference.”

Those who saw it either left the auditorium in tears or with a better knowledge of an important part of Black history.

“It was great!” said sophomore accounting major, Denecia Scott of Durham. “It was really, really touching and the fact that the actors and singers were really crying was really moving to the audience.”

Putting together the production produced problems in itself from casting to rehearsal to opposition on campus. Senior mechanical engineering major from Columbia, SC, John McCoy, of the Beta Epsilon Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity , Inc. who co-sponsored the play, recounted the work that was put into it.

“[Wilson] experienced a great deal of adversity even from the onset of the project,” said McCoy. “He wrote, directed, and produced the play himself.  I read the script, attended some of the rehearsals, and immediately knew that this was something that the campus needed to experience.

Wilson originally wrote the play in high school as part of a project and made improvements to it before beginning work on it at A&T in November 2008. He felt that this was the right time in his life to bring it to the stage and it’s an emotional story that has gone unsolved. The two men, J. M. Milam and Roy Bryant, who murdered Till remained free men after a five-day trial and were never punished for their crime.

Currently, Wilson is working on a short film about the genocide and massive rapes occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo titled, “The Pulse of the Congo.” He is an aspiring filmmaker and aims to make more films that that drive home important lessons and leave the audience with more knowledge than before.

“Kevin did a fantastic job of structuring it.  The audience was taken on an emotional roller coaster ride throughout the night,” McCoy said. “There were smiles of laughter, cheers, boos, and tears.” 

  • Stacie Bailey