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Golden Hour Books

The Barn: The Secret History of a Murder in Mississippi by Wright Thompson (9/24/24)

The Barn: The Secret History of a Murder in Mississippi by Wright Thompson (9/24/24)

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A shocking and revelatory account of the murder of Emmett Till, laying bare the global forces that converged on the Mississippi Delta in the long lead-up to the crime, and how the truth was hidden for so long

Wright Thompson’s family farm in Mississippi is twenty-three miles from the site of one of the most notorious and consequential killings in American history, yet he learned of it only when he left the state for college. To this day, fundamental truths about the crime are hidden and unknown, including where it took place and how many people were involved. This is no accident: the cover-up began at once, and it is ongoing.

In August 1955, two men, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, were charged with the torture and murder of the fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi. After their acquittal in a mockery of justice, they gave a false confession to a journalist, lying about where the long night of hell took place and who was involved. In fact, Wright Thompson reveals, at least eight people can be placed at the scene, which was inside the barn of one of the killers, on a plot of land within the thirty-six-square-mile grid whose official name is Township 22 North, Range 4 West, also home to the birthplace of the blues on nearby Dockery Plantation.

Even in the context of the racist caste regime of the time, the four-hour torture and murder of a Black boy barely in his teens for whistling at a young white woman was acutely depraved. The decision by Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to keep the casket open seared the crime indelibly into American consciousness. Thompson has a deep understanding of the world of the families of Emmett Till and of his killers, as well as the forces that aligned to place them together on that spot on the map. This is a story about property, money, power, and white supremacy that implicates all of us. In The Barn, Thompson brings to life the small group of dedicated people who have been engaged in the hard, fearful business of bringing the truth to light. Putting the killing floor of the barn on the map of Township 22 North, Range 4 West, and the Delta, and America is a way of mapping the road this country must travel if we are to heal our oldest, deepest wound.

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