Simeon Wright, Witness to Abduction of Emmett Till, Dies at 74

It was Simeon who identified Emmett’s ring for the police a few days later, after his cousin’s beaten body, one eye gouged out, had been fished from the Tallahatchie River, weighted down with a 75-pound cotton gin fan tethered to his neck with barbed wire.

And it was Mr. Wright who five decades later would donate a sample of his DNA, helping federal prosecutors prove that the disfigured body — the one the nation saw in shocking photographs of the open coffin — was Emmett’s. (The defendants had claimed they could not be convicted because the victim was never conclusively identified.)

Simeon Wright, who fled Mississippi with his parents and siblings after the not-guilty verdict, died on Monday in Countryside, Ill., a Chicago suburb. He was 74. His family said the cause was complications of bone cancer.

Photo

Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, grieved at her son’s casket in Chicago in 1955.

Credit
Chicago Sun-Times, via Associated Press

Six decades after leaving the South, still haunted by the murder, Mr. Wright belatedly became a keeper of his cousin’s legacy.

“Our world was never the same after that,” he told The New York Times in 2004.

The aroma of honeysuckle every summer would remind him of his boyhood home. The rumbling of an automobile evoked his sleeplessness in the bed from which his cousin had been kidnapped.

“I lay there that night,” Mr. Wright recalled in an oral history interview in 2011, “and every car that I would hear, I thought it was J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant bringing Emmett back.”

Mr. Wright was the youngest of the group that took the family’s Ford sedan to the store in Money, near Greenwood. His older brother Maurice drove.

“Maurice sent me in behind Emmett to make sure that he didn’t say anything that he shouldn’t, because he just didn’t know the ways of the South,” Mr. Wright recalled in the oral history, made for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture by the Southern Oral History Program.

Only Mrs. Bryant knows what Emmett said to her before Simeon went into the store to retrieve him. Emmett may have violated a taboo in the Jim Crow South by placing his money directly in her hand instead of on the counter. By all accounts, though, he did not grab her.

Mrs. Bryant testified at the trial of Mr. Bryant and Mr. Milam that…

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