Reflections on Emmett Till – Barbara Lipman

Fifty years ago, almost to the day, I began working at the Wilkes Elementary School in Money, Mississippi – literally a hundred feet (across the Money Road) from the Bryant Grocery Store. I, of course, knew all about the Bryant Store. And I knew about Emmett Till.


My husband David and I, newly married, arrived in Mississippi the month of September 1970. I applied as an elementary school teaching in the Greenwood City School District. Superintendent J.W. Dribbins, refused to consider me for employment even though I had considerable experience as a teacher in inner-city schools in Pittsburgh. Dribbins told me that my husband was trying to destroy the Greenwood community in his representation of civil rights clients and particularly attempts to integrate the Greenwood schools. He told me simply – that he would never hire me.


I then applied to the Leflore County School District. Greenwood was in Leflore County. There were positions open at several of the rural county schools. I chose Money.


I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I clearly remember reading Jet Magazine at the Buschbaum Drug Store and seeing pictures of Emmett Till so disfigured and dismembered in that iconic casket. And I saw photographs of his grieving mother, Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley. I did not recall Money. I was 10 years old.


I was the first female white teacher at the Money School since Reconstruction. As soon as I walked through the door, every teacher told me the Emmett Till story. Many of my students repeated the story. Everyone in the Money area knew of Emmett Till.


Often I invited civil rights attorneys from the North Mississippi Rural Legal Services in Greenwood (where David worked) to join my class and speak to my students. Emmett Till was always spoken; my students listened attentively and carefully. My students in the classroom remained reverent and silent as they were completely absorbed in Emmett Till.


All of the faculty went to the Bryant Grocery for snacks – RC Cola and a Moonpie. Bryant Grocery was the only grocery store in the area where sharecroppers could buy food. Money was 12 straight miles – on the Money Road – from Greenwood.


We saw Mrs. Bryant in the grocery store. She never said a word. We would pick what we wanted. We would place our money at the counter. We would walk out. Not a word was ever spoken.


I was told by my colleagues that every Black child was told the Emmett Till story from the very first time that they could understand.


Emmett Till and his story had special significance in Money; in Greenwood; in Mississippi and throughout our country. My 10-year-old granddaughter Tessa in Washington, D.C. knows the story of Emmett Till. She speaks of Emmett Till in the same sentence as George Floyd.