Tag: Emmett Till

Emmett Till Was Louis Till’s Son (Part I)

Thursday, February 1, 2018 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Louis Till, the father of Emmett Louis Till. | Alchetron 

I thought I would commemorate Black History Month by writing about black historical figures as if they were once actually living, breathing human beings who were not destined for one-dimensionality, who lived in worlds that did not consider them great, or iconic — their lives no more the object of classroom lessons (often badly taught) than a wooden desk is an object of hunger.

Continue reading “Emmett Till Was Louis Till’s Son (Part I)”

Simeon Wright, Emmett Till Witness and Former Bellwood Resident, Dies at 74

Monday, September 4, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

Simeon Wright, who witnessed the abduction of his cousin Emmett Till in 1955, died on Sept. 4 from cancer, according to a report by the USA Today Network. He was 74. Wright’s death was confirmed by his friends, the network noted.

Continue reading “Simeon Wright, Emmett Till Witness and Former Bellwood Resident, Dies at 74”

Hundreds Remember Iberia Hampton, Mother to Fred and Everyone Else

Iberia Hampton_Jesse Jackson_Bill Hampton.jpg

Iberia Hampton, far left, with her oldest son William Hampton, center, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., during a 1971 news conference. | John Filo/Associated Press | Below: Hundreds crowd into the Maywood Park District’s gymnasium to remember Iberia Hampton, who died last week at the age of 94. 

Hampton .jpgSunday, October 23, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

A crowd of at least 100 people packed the gymnasium inside of the Maywood Park District, 921 S. 9th Ave., on Sunday to remember Iberia Hampton — the mother of Black Panther icon and Maywood native son Fred Hampton — who died on Oct. 16 at the age of 94.

Her oldest son, Maywood Park District Commissioner William “Bill” Hampton, said that his mother had been recuperating from a stroke at the time of her death, which reverberated well beyond Maywood — the Hampton family’s home since 1958.

Jeffrey Haas, the Hampton family’s attorney for more than four decades and who spoke briefly at the Oct. 23 memorial service, said that people are invoking the Hamptons rather often nowadays.

Haas said he’d just returned from a ceremony in Oakland commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panthers — the black nationalist political organization that was founded in 1968 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and for which Fred served as Illinois chapter president.

“Iberia’s and Fred’s names were mentioned quite a few times [in Oakland],” said Haas, the author of “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther.”

A year after Fred’s infamous assassination on Dec. 4, 1969 by Chicago police officers, Haas and a team of attorneys, which included Flint Taylor and James Montgomery, brought a $47.7 million lawsuit against Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, and other local and federal officials.

Hanrahan authorized the police raid that resulted in Hampton’s murder. Another Black Panther leader, Mark Clark, was also killed in the raid, which authorities claimed was conducted in order to search for illegal weapons.

The case was initially dismissed by a federal district court, but the attorneys appealed the decision all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided 5-3 in 1980 to send the case back to the lower courts for a new trial.

In 1982, the city, county and federal governments agreed to a $1.85 million settlement to be distributed among nine plaintiffs, including Iberia and the mother of Clark.

“Iberia was a mama to so many,” said Taylor at Sunday’s memorial service. “She was my second mother. She was Jeff’s second mother. And she stood with myself, Jeff and Jim when we tried to bring justice to her family. The strength and understanding she had — she gave some of it to all of us.”

“I canceled a four-day trip to Bermuda to be here,” said Montgomery, “and I’d do it 10 more times to be here … Fred Hampton was Iberia’s legacy and a freedom fighter who was second to none.”

Montgomery, who said he was deeply influenced by, and admired, Fred, said that the slain activist died fighting “for a cause that’s never going to die.”

Steward for justice

Iberia Beatrice Hampton was born on Feb. 5, 1922 to Elihue and Lizzie White in Haynesville, Louisiana. She was the oldest of the couple’s four children.

Haas writes in his 2009 book that the families of Iberia and her husband, Francis Allen Hampton, “farmed the land their great-grandparents had worked as slaves.”

In the 1930s, Francis moved to the Chicago area seeking opportunity. He found a job at the Corn Products Refining Company in Argo, a southwest side suburb.

While Francis worked, Iberia stayed home to care for their three children — William, Delores and Fred. In Argo, she would sometimes babysit a “curious and quite rambunctious” child nicknamed Bobo, whom Iberia called “a handful,” according to Haas.

In August 1955, Bobo, whose birth name was Emmett Louis Till, would be found dead in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi, his body — beaten and bloated beyond recognition — tied with barbed wire to a cotton-gin. He had allegedly whistled at a white woman, invoking the wrath of the woman’s husband.

Maywood Park District Commissioner Bill Hampton and mother Iberia Hampton

“I couldn’t stand going to his funeral and seeing him like that,” Iberia would tell Haas. “I wanted to remember him as the active and saucy kid I babysat for.”

Three years later, in 1958, the Hamptons moved to Maywood, where Fred attended Irving Elementary School (now Irving Middle School) and Proviso East High School.

“All the kids loved Fred,” Iberia told Haas. “And the teachers, too. Seems like he was never alone.”

Iberia recalled that Fred’s rhetorical promise was made clear in his deft ability to signify, or to jokingly insult other students, some of whom, Iberia recalled, teased Fred about his physical appearance.

“They called him peanut head and watermelon head,” Iberia told Haas. “He was upset for a while, but he learned to defend himself with words.”

Along with his way with words, Fred also showed a gift for bringing different people together. He would often herd the kids in the neighborhood into Iberia’s kitchen on weekends and they “would cook breakfast together for themselves and all of us,” she told Haas.

Before, and well after, her son’s death, Iberia’s kitchen on the 800 block of South 17th Ave. in Maywood, would often become the scene of political conversations — philosophical and strategic.

But they were more than armchair deliberations. Iberia’s own history of grassroots and workplace organizing may have helped inspire her famous son. 

When she eventually got a job with Corn Products in 1956 (“doing quality control on the bottles and caps as they came down the assembly line,” Haas writes), Iberia was selected to be a union steward. 

“I loved it,” she told Haas. “Once we cooked meals at the Union Hall for over seven hundred people, every day during a two-month strike.” 

During Sunday’s memorial service, mourners still salivated at the thought of Iberia’s meals, which she would fix for the activists, entertainers, politicians and everyday people who would make regular sojourns to her Maywood home.

Her oldest son Bill, who has shepherded his younger brother’s legacy since the latter’s death in 1969, would host regular political and social gatherings contoured by his mother’s cooking.

“I don’t think there’s been a year that’s gone by that I’m not spending time in the Hampton home,” said U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) at Sunday’s memorial. “Mrs. Hampton was an activist, a mother and a tremendous cook.”

Relative Martha Allen recalled Iberia’s peach cobbler, banana pudding, collard greens, fried fish and other southern fare.

“Everyday was Thanksgiving at her house,” said Allen.

Everyday at Iberia’s was also a continuance of the struggle that claimed the life of her son. Davis said the Hamptons would regularly produce a list of “progressive people running for office” in the community, so that area voters could “select who they thought were best fit for office.”

Among those officeholders who made trips to the Hampton’s home were state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough.

“I spoke with her many times and she’d always tell me we all had to be the change we want to see in this community,” said Welch, who noted that he shares a birthday with Iberia.

“I called her mama,” said Yarbrough, among the legions of people who claim filial kinship to the widely known matriarch. “She told it like it is.”

“She was a fighter until the end,” said Allen, recalling her visits with Iberia in the matriarch’s final days. At 94, and bedridden, she was still strong enough to give orders, that indomitable will that once coursed through her son unabated. 

“That’s what we need in our communities,” Allen said. “There’s no giving up if you want change to come about.” VFP

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Emmett Till’s Cousin, Former Bellwood Resident, Recalls Innocence Lost


Simeon Wright, 73, recall memories of his cousin, Emmett Till, during a visit to an Oak Park middle school on May 4. Wright wants to correct the historical record about the infamous whistle that led to Till’s heinous death in 1955. | William Camargo/Wednesday  Journal

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

Simeon Wright, 73, wanted an auditorium full of 8th graders to know that his 14-year-old cousin, Emmett Till, wasn’t much different from most of them. He was a rambunctious city kid who loved to laugh and had a lifetime of ambitions ahead of him before he was tortured and lynched on Aug. 28, 1955 by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for allegedly whistling at the former’s wife, 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, in a grocery store.

Till’s body was found several days later in Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River, where it was tied with barbed wire to a metal fan. After his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted that his body be brought back to his hometown of Chicago and displayed in an open casket, the image of the boy’s swollen, mutilated corpse appeared in a Sept. 2, 1955 issue of Jet Magazine. The moment, many historians believe, helped spark the modern Civil Rights movement.

But it was the infamous whistle that precipitated his murder that Wright wants to place into context. It was the sound of a wisecracking, life-loving boy whose complex humanity was taken from him, Wright noted.

__ More after the photo __

Emmett Till Jet.jpg

A picture of Till’s body published in Jet Magazine’s Sept. 2, 1955 issue.

Emmett Till had dreams

“He dreamed of being a comedian,” Wright said during a May 4 visit to an Oak Park middle school. “He wanted to pattern his routine after George Gobel. You’d have to ask your grandfather, maybe your great-grandfather, ‘Who was George Gobel?”

Wright, born in Mississippi and a cotton-picker since the age of eight, would revel in his cousin’s story of mythical Chicago — of Lincoln Park Zoo and a famous gorilla named Bushman, supposedly the biggest one in captivity; of Riverview Park on Belmont and Western, home of The Bobs rollercoaster, one of the most famous wooden coasters in the world.

“Can you imagine me hearing about Lincoln Park Zoo in the cotton fields of Mississippi? I didn’t believe it,” said Wright, who was more accustomed to the horizontal simplicity of the Mississippi Delta — where everything, even childhood fun, was dictated by the cotton sack and work that lasted, during the harvest, “from sun to none.”

“At the age of 8, we got a seven-foot [cotton sack],” Wright recalled. “At the age of 11, we got a nine-footer,” which the retired pipe fitter currently keeps in his garage in Countryside, where he moved after living in Bellwood for two decades.

The sack was also a tool for tempering any unruliness. Wright’s father, Mose, would make him and his brothers drag one of the sacks around until, “at the end of the day, we’d be so tired we had no energy left.”

As with the cotton sack, the memory of his now iconic cousin is still with him — even though, to most of the young people he speaks to, both are more relic than real.

“A lot of times we read things in 7th and 8th grade history lessons,” but it’s not often that students get to see someone who was part of that history,” said Brooks Middle School humanities teacher Karen Tokarz. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Wright has dedicated his post-retirement to correcting a large chunk of that conventional history — the history most of the students have either read about in schoolbooks or watched in films, like the now-canonic “Eyes on the Prize” series of documentaries.

“So much stuff out there is not true,” Wright said. “You’ve seen ‘Eyes on the Prize?’ My [nephew is] in there talking about what happened at the store? He said my brother and I dared Emmett to go in the store. I said, ‘Get out of here!’ We’d have been just as guilty as the people who killed him if we’d done that. But that’s in history and I’m trying to correct it.”

Wright said this version of events was even memorialized at the National Civil Right Museum in Memphis. He said students from Chicago who would visit the museum would protest the exhibit until “they finally took it down.”

In the summer of 1955, Till took a trip from Chicago to the home of his great-uncle, Mose Wright, who lived about three miles away from the small town of Money, Mississippi. On a Wednesday night, Till and his cousins traveled to Money.

“My brother, Maurice, was 16 at the time,” said Wright, who was 12. “He was driving my daddy’s car. Emmett and Wheeler were sitting in the front seat and I was sitting in the back seat with two other neighbors. Most of the stores, we only had five, closed for the night. This guy was so mean he wouldn’t close the store. So we had to go into this store.”

Till photo.jpg

Wright said his nephew, Wheeler Parker, went into the store first while Till followed behind him. When Parker left, Wright said, his older brother Maurice insisted that someone go inside to be with Till.

“Emmett didn’t know the mores of the south,” Wright said. “What was dangerous to us was fun to him.”

The version of events presented by Wright and Wheeler weren’t included in “Eyes on the Prize.” The documentary captures an interview with Wright’s nephew Curtis Jones, who wasn’t near the store at the time of the infamous whistle.

According to Jones, Wright and his nephew dared Till to go inside the store. Jones also claimed that Till was carrying in his wallet pictures of white girlfriends back at home. Wright and Parker have disputed the first claim and during his May 4 talk, Wright said he’d never seen such photos.

“They painted him like he was a mannish boy come down here and just going to bogart the system, but it didn’t happen like that,” Parker told Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass in 2014. “For 30 years, nobody interviewed us about it, and we were almost shamed to talk about it.”

Wright said he doesn’t know what happened between the time Parker left out of the store and he went inside to monitor Till. When he walked inside, however, his cousin “had the Cheshire cat look on his face,” Wright said.

“I don’t know what he said to Carolyn Bryant [the white woman attending the store] in that minute, but inside the store nothing was said. We left the store together. We were standing by the door,” Wright recalled, before calling a young 8th grade girl to the front of the auditorium to demonstrate a wolf-whistle so that the children “will never forget” the sound.

“They asked me, ‘Why did he do it?’ He wanted us to laugh,” Wright said. “It scared us half to death. We couldn’t get out of town fast enough.”

As they were driving away, Till begged his cousins not to tell Uncle Mose, because if Wright’s father found out, the 14-year-old would’ve been sent back to Chicago in an instant. Wright said he, his brother and cousins didn’t tell, because they couldn’t imagine that not two weeks later, Till’s swollen and deformed body would be pulled out of the Tallahatchie River.

“I’d never heard of a lynching,” Wright said. “They didn’t put those in the paper.”

For Wright, the whistling incident that precipitated Till’s historic martyrdom encapsulates the ambivalence of history and memory. That moment in time has been either distorted to fit racist stereotypes or romanticized to fit a mythical image of Till as a meek and mild saint, Wright and Wheeler noted.

Emmett was just a child like you all, Wright kept emphasizing to the students over and over again, in so many iterations; his testimony giving form and depth to the measure of Till’s individuality.

There was never a dare and there were no pictures, Wright told the students. Those are the “lies that are in history that you all are going to help me erase.” VFP