Ole Miss Students Suspended from Fraternity after Posing with Guns in front of Emmett Till Memorial

Three students from the University of Mississippi have been suspended from their fraternity after posing with guns for a photo in front of the bullet-riddled historical marker of lynching victim Emmett Till.

The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica first reported the picture on July 25 after the image reportedly circulated on social media platforms. The marker is located between a riverbank and cotton fields outside of Glendora, Mississippi, near where Till’s body was found.

Rod Guajardo, the University of Mississippi spokesman said in a statement to The North Star that the university became aware of the photo in March after a report was made to its Bias Incident Response Team and referred the incident to the university's police department. Guajardo said the image was reported to the FBI “which reported back to [University of Mississippi Police Department]that it 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.”

However, US Attorney Chad Lamar told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica that the case is currently being investigated. It remains unclear if the students were the ones who shot the bullet holes into the memorial.

Guajardo said the university supports the decision by the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity to suspend the students and said it is “ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter.” Jesse Lyons, assistant executive director of the Kappa Alpha Order's national office in Lexington, Virginia told CBS News that it learned about the photo 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.

Larry D. Sparks, Interim Chancellor at the university, said in a statement to The North Star that because the incident occurred off campus, there is not much the university can do. “The incident occurred off campus, did not rise to the level of a threat per federal authorities, and was not part of any university-affiliated event. As a community of learning and a state institution, we have limits on the tools available to remedy this offensive behavior,” the statement reads.

Till, a Black teenager from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi in August 1955.

When he stopped at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, he encountered a white woman by the name of Carolyn Bryant. It isn’t clear if Till interacted with Bryant, but, four days later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half brother, J.W. Milam, beat, shot, and lynched the 14-year-old boy. The white men were acquitted of the murder.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, had her son’s casket open during his funeral to show the brutal violence her teenage son had endured. The killing of the teenager acted as one of the catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement.

Garrett Felber, an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, told The North Star that the “university itself is a white supremacist edifice.” When asked if the university could be doing more to prevent these types of incidents from occurring again, he said the university should foster a better environment for its Black students.

“They’ll say they can’t do more because of things that bound them legally,” Felber said. “Yet, the university can do more all the time to prevent things like this. What the university needs to be doing is serving the Black students in this state.”

The Emmett Till Memorial Commission, which cares for the marker, learned that the story was going to be published and removed the sign to replace it with a bullet-proof, 500-pound reinforced sign, NBC News reported.

Patrick Weems told the news station that the memorial has been previously destroyed and this will be the fourth replaced memorial on the site. The first sign went up in 2007 and was stolen a year later, CNN previously reported. In 2016, the replaced sign was ruined from people shooting at it and a third sign was erected in 2018, but it was already shot only 35 days after it was unveiled. The new historical marker will go up on October 19 and some of Till’s relatives are expected to attend the event.

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.