White supremacists filmed a video around the Emmett Till memorial on Nov. 2, 2019. Image courtesy of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center.
A small group of white supremacists gathered around the Emmett Till memorial in Tallahatchie County, Miss., on Saturday morning, carrying a Mississippi flag and a League of the South flag. They were apparently filming a propaganda video when alarms went off at the new memorial to Till, who became the victim of a white supremacist slaying when he was just 14 years old.
“We got to go now, come on,” said the bald man with the Mississippi flag who, like the others, wore a dark top and khaki pants, surveillance footage shows. He was clearly waving the rest of the group over to the get video going.
“We got to get the f-ck on,” another man agrees.
Then the filming begins.
"We are here at the Emmett Till monument that represents the Civil Rights movement for blacks. What we want to know is, where are all of the white—,” League of the South leader Michael Hill says while two women film. The video cuts off before he can finish his sentence.
The group is the League of the South, a Killen, Ala., based group that the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as fighting for a future in which a white elite "would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate black people and other minorities."
Before founding League of the South in 1994, Hill was a professor of British history at Stillman College—a historically black college in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
After this report, the group uploaded a video to one of their social media channels in that includes the rest of the sentence.
"What we want to know is, where are all the white people over the last 50 years that have been murdered, assaulted and raped by blacks going to be memorialized like this? We are League of the South," Hill says, playing on a long history of false, racist claims that African Americans are inherently more violent than white people—a lie that Donald Trump himself repeated when he retweeted a white supremacist's fake statistics in 2015.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows, though, that the overwhelming majority of crimes against white people are committed by other white people.
Still, racists used lies of deeply held beliefs, later supposedly borne out by "scientific racism" and false claims about a genetic predisposition to violence to justify thousands of lynchings of black people in the years after the Civil War. Black men were often lynched after being falsely accused of raping white women.
Till's killers justified his 1955 by murder by pointing to a claim Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, made; she claimed the 14-year-old boy whistled at her in a grocery store. Three white men then brutally beat him before dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River. A white jury acquitted the men who killed him.
Seven decades later, in 2017, Bryant admitted that she had made the whole thing up; the boy never whistled at her, she said.
Till's memorial has had to be replaced multiple times after getting shot at and riddled with bullets. The current memorial, installed a few weeks ago, is bulletproof and includes a security system.
Surveillance footage at the memorial on Saturday from another angle shows the League of the South members dispersing and running to the cars as alarms ring out. Watch some of that footage here and here.
Patrick Weems, the executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, told the Jackson Free Press that they installed the cameras around the monument to help protect it. The monument has been replaced multiple times after being vandalized and shot up. The Center is monitoring the new memorial, which is bulletproof. The Center shared the footage with the Jackson Free Press Saturday evening.
The Jackson Free Press revealed to the world in February 2016 that Gov. Bryant had declared April "Confederate Heritage Month," but with no mention of slavery.
Weems said that the lack of repercussions for past vandalisms at the historic marker will only invite similar acts. He pointed to an incident earlier this year when three students from the University of Mississippi posed with guns around the marker.
“The (U.S.) Department of Justice didn’t flag it as a hate crime, and the University of Mississippi has yet to flag it as an issue, and I think it’s an open call for white supremacist groups that if there is no repercussion, they’re going to continue to come out and do these sorts of acts at the sign," Weems said. "I think there’s an obvious irony that the hate flag they used was the Mississippi flag. And I would hope that our politicians and political leaders would recognize how hateful that flag is to many people in the State of Mississippi.”
By Sunday afternoon, Weems told the Jackson Free Press that the Emmett Till Center has raised more than $9,000 at emmett-till.org since the video went viral on Saturday.
Jackson Free Press editor Donna Ladd reported in 2017 on similarities between "white nationalist" groups like the League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which gave an award to Gov. Phil Bryant last year. The award is named after former Mississippi Gov. John J. Pettus, a slave holder who presided over secession during the Civil War. He argued for secession, saying it was the only way to preserve slavery.
Follow State Reporter Ashton Pittman on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send tips to [email protected]