Trial In The Delta: Drama Shines Light On 67 Year-Old Wrong
Written by Vocalo Radio on February 17, 2023
Chicago-based playwrights Willie Round and Gary Mills bring to light the true story of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
‘Trial in the Delta: The Murder of Emmett Till’ is a new play co-written by Emmy award winners Willie Round and Gary Mills, who stopped by the Vocalo studios to discuss the production with afternoon host Nudia Hernandez.
The play is a reenactment of the trial of Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, following the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Till, a Chicago native, was brutally attacked and tortured while visiting Mississippi in August of 1955, and his lifeless body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River. The chilling image of the young teen’s mangled corpse, displayed in an open-casket funeral, published in Chicago-based (now-defunct) Jet magazine, was credited with helping to galvanize the Civil Rights Movement.
The idea for the play was born when NBC 5 reporter Marion Brooks gained access to the documents for a news report, and sought out actors for voiceover reenactments via Anthony Moseley, creative director of Collaboraction Theater. Eventually, the theater decided to adapt it.
Round and Mills used the original transcript of the 1955 trial as source material, revealing details about the trial that had been lost for decades. As Mills put it, “It became really clear, as we were reading it, why that transcript disappeared for 50 years.”
Mills told Nudia, “Our job was to take 400 pages, find the narrative and carve it down… it was basically sculpting, to create a 90-minute trial.”
He added, “For me, it was shocking but it read like a thriller, because every witness is painting in a little bit more of what happened that night with these two alleged murderers. And the courage of the Black witnesses who came forward: Mamie Till, Willie Reed, Uncle Moses, to go into that courtroom… knowing all these white people were ready to lynch them… it took more courage than I could ever imagine.”
Nudia asked the pair of playwrights, “I’m sure it was tedious, reading all 400 pages, but was it also a little bit emotional, knowing the injustice?”
Willie Round replied, “For me, it was very emotional, many times I had to go for walks to cope with what I just read. It was gruesome and it was hard. And it was a reminder of the progress that we need to make to this day [in terms of] the judicial system and as far as civil rights for common folk.” Round also acknowledged “the heavy weight [the cast has] to carry” in the process of bringing this story to light. But the play also serves as a reminder that as of February of 2023, according to the FBI, “no one else was ever indicted or prosecuted for involvement in the kidnapping or murder” of Emmett Till.
Trial in the Delta is on view at the DuSable Black History Museum until Feb. 19. According to Perri Irmer, President and CEO of the DuSable, “Placed in the context of today’s much-publicized trials against Black men, this new work also illuminates ways in which history repeats itself.”
Listen to the whole conversation on Spotify below.
Interview and audio editing by Nudia Hernandez
In-studio photography by Morgan Ciocca
Introduction written by Ayana Contreras
Production support by Joshua X. Miller
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