On the evening of August 24, 1955, at Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, Emmett Till whistled at Carolyn Bryant. Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market was a general store operated by Roy and Carolyn Bryant--one of many grocery stores in the area run by members of the Milam and Bryant families. (1) On the evening of August 24, 1955, Carolyn Bryant was operating the front of the store when Emmett Till and his cousins stopped in to purchase candy and soda and play checkers on the front porch. Her husband was out of town.
According to the Emmett Till Memory Project:
Till arrived at Bryant’s Grocery around 7:30 pm along with several cousins and friends. The primary attraction was the checkers game on the front porch. With his companions thus engaged, Till followed his cousin Wheeler Parker into the store.
When Wheeler came out of the store, Simeon Wright went in. Twelve years old, Wright grew up in the Mississippi Delta, knew the rules of the Jim Crow South, and didn’t want to leave his Chicago cousin alone with white shopkeeper Carolyn Bryant.
When Simeon entered the store, he saw nothing inappropriate. Contrary to the story later told in court by Carolyn Bryant, Till did not grab her or put his arms around her. He did not proposition her. He did not ask her for a date or call her “baby.” He simply paid for his items and left the store.
Shortly after the cousins left the store, Carolyn Bryant came out too, heading for her car. That is when it happened.
Emmett whistled at Carolyn Bryant. As Simeon Wright remembers it, “It was a loud wolf whistle, a big-city ‘whee wheeeee.’”
Although historians have debated whether or not Till actually whistled, those who witnessed the event have always insisted that he did. Critically, Till’s cousins Simeon Wright and Wheeler Parker (both eyewitnesses) insist that Till whistled.
The whistle violated the norms of the Jim Crow South, and Wright and Parker both knew it. It had broken an “unwritten law” that governed the interactions of black men and white women. Worried, they hurried Till away from the store as fast as possible.
Bryant's Grocery in 1955 versus today. The building has become a ruin over the past several decades.
Following the acquittal Milam and Bryant, the black residents of Money refused to shop at Bryant's Grocery, instead shopping in neighboring towns. Bryant's Grocery was hit hard financially, and less than a month after the murder trial ended, the business was for sale. (3)
The building passed through several owners over the next few decades. Since the 1980s, the Tribble family (children of one of the jurors in the Milam and Bryant murder trial) has owned the grocery and has left it to fall into ruin. (4)
In 2011, the first marker of the Mississippi Freedom Trail was posted in front of Bryant's Grocery to recognize the vital role of Emmett Till's murder in galvanizing the Civil Rights Movement. The marker was vandalized in 2017 and was replaced with a new marker that still stands there today.
Devery Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder that Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement, University Press of Mississippi, 2015, p. 24.
ibid, p. 29-30.
Dave Tell, Davis Houck, Pablo Correa & the Emmett Till Memorial Commission of Tallahatchie County, "Bryant's Grocery," Emmett Till Memory Project, 2021, https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/1?tour=1&index=1.
The Mississippi Freedom Trail marker that originally stood at Bryant's Grocery in Money, MS.