“The Face of Emmett Till” will premier for the first time in Ohio at the Xenia Area Community Theater (X*ACT) as a joint effort between the theater and the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Showtimes are Feb. 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee on Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. All showings are at X*ACT Theater, 45 E. Second St., Xenia, Ohio.
The play is written by Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley and David Barr III and details Emmett’s brutal death at age 14.
Emmett grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in South Chicago. He attended McCosh Grammar school, where it was said by friends that he was a gregarious guy who was easy to befriend.
“Emmett was a funny guy all the time. He had a suitcase of jokes that he liked to tell. He loved to make people laugh. He was a chubby kid; most of the guys were skinny, but he didn’t let that stand in his way. He made a lot of friends at McCosh,” said Richard Heard, a childhood friend of Emmett.
He was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi when he was accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white grocery store clerk at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market.
Four days later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till kidnapped Emmett from his uncle’s home. They then beat him and dragged him to the Tallahatchie River, shot him, tied him with barbed-wire to a large metal fan and dropped his body in the river.
The two men were charged and stood trial for Emmett’s murder but an all-male, all-white jury acquitted them.
Emmett was the only child of Louis and Mamie Till. Mamie was the only the fourth black student to graduate from suburban Chicago’s predominantly white Argo Community school. While raising Emmett, as a single mother, she worked long, hard hours as a clerk for confidential files for the Air Force.
After his death, Emmett’s body was returned home to Chicago, where despite the gruesome, unspeakable mutilation done to Emmett’s body, his mother opted for an open-casket funeral.
“Let the world see what has happened because there is no way I could describe this. And I needed somebody to help me tell what it was like,” said Mamie at the time.
According to civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, the body was seen by over 100,000 people, making it the biggest civil rights demonstration at that point in history.
The murder coming just one year after the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education, which mandated the end of segregation in schools, Till’s death was a catalyst for the civil rights movement.
In a 2007 interview with Vanity Fair, Duke University researcher, Timothy Tyson, stated that Bryant had in fact lied about Till making advances towards her.
“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” said Bryant (now Bryant Donham as she had remarried), expressing remorse for what happened.
The Xenia production of the play is directed by Joyce Barnes, an Associate Professor of English here at Sinclair Community College.
Mendu Khanyile is set to play Mamie Till-Badley and Bendali Eugene is to play Emmett Till. The two men who attacked and killed him are to be played by Carter Hume and John Lawson, who will be playing Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, respectively. Carolyn Bryant is to be played by Olivia Ekler.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting X*ACT’s website or calling 937-372-0516. The opening night gala will feature musician Marceia Cornwell. Doors open one hour before each performance to give an opportunity to view the National Afro-American Museum’s exhibit.
LeAnne McPherson & Richard Foltz
Multimedia Specialist & Reporter