Jay-Z and Will Smith Team Up to Tell the Story of Emmett Till

Aapper Jay-Z and actor Will Smith are coming together to tell the story of Emmett Till with a new TV series on ABC.

The new series, titled “Women of the Movement,” will tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of Black women, according to a press release from the network. The first part of the series will feature the story of Emmett Till told by his mother, Mamie Till. It is inspired by Devery S. Anderson’s book Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement.

“The series is a chronology of the civil rights movement as told from a black woman's point of view, with the first season centered on Mamie Till, who devoted her life to seeking justice in her son Emmett's name following his brutal murder in the Jim Crow South,” the news release states.

Jay-Z, Will Smith, Jay Brown, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, James Lassiter, Aaron Kaplan, Dana Honor, Rosanna Grace, and many others will be executive producers of the series, according to the network.

More than 60 years ago, Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old boy from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he stopped inside Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market and crossed paths with a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. It remains unclear whether Till interacted with Bryant, but Bryant’s husband and his half brother, J.W. Milam, beat, shot, and lynched the teenager. The two white men were acquitted of the murder.

Mamie Till demanded her son’s casket remain open during his funeral to show how brutally beaten he was. The teenager’s death was an important factor in sparking the Civil Rights Movement. His mother fought for justice from her son’s death in 1955, through the Civil Rights Movement, and until her death in 2003.

Three months after Emmett Till’s death, Rosa Parks was arrested for breaking Montgomery segregation laws by refusing to give her bus seat to a white passenger, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Reverend Jesse Jackson told the publication that when he asked Parks in 1988 why she refused to give up her seat, “she said she thought about going to the back of the bus. But then she thought about Emmett Till and she couldn’t do it.”

Last year, the Justice Department announced it was reopening the investigation of the killing of Emmett Till “after receiving new information.” The decision became public in July 2018, months after it was announced to Congress via a report on racially-motivated homicides.

Last month, three students from the University of Mississippi were suspended from their fraternity, Kappa Alpha, after a report from the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica discovered a photo of the students posing in front of a bullet-riddled historical marker dedicated to Emmett Till.

Rod Guajardo, the University of Mississippi spokesman, said in a previous statement to The North Star that the university became aware of the photo in March, and it was reported to its Bias Incident Response Team before being referred to the university’s police department. Guajardo said the FBI “declined to investigate further because the photo did not pose a specific threat.”

“While the image is offensive, it did not present a violation of (the) university code of conduct,” Guajardo said in the statement. “It occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event.”

Despite this, US Attorney Chad Lamar previously told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica that the photo was still being investigated. Jesse Lyons, the assistant executive director of the Kappa Alpha Order’s national office in Lexington, Virginia, previously told CBS News that the fraternity had learned about the photo when the report came out on July 23.

“The making of the photo was unrelated to any event or activity of the chapter. It is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable. It does not represent our Kappa Alpha Order,” Lyons said in a statement to the news station.

The marker, which is located between a riverbank and cotton fields outside of Glendora, Mississippi, near where Till’s body was found, will be replaced. The Emmett Till Memorial Commission, which cares for the marker, told NBC News the sign was removed and will be replaced with a bullet-proof, 500-pound reinforced sign.


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.