SUMNER — The Tallahatchie County Courthouse here will be closed Feb. 12 to March 12 to allow for the filming of scenes for an upcoming ABC miniseries about Webb native Mamie Till-Mobley.
The photoplay about the life of the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black Chicago youth who was brutally beaten and killed after allegedly flirting with the wife of a white store owner in Money in 1955, will span six episodes comprising the first season of “Women of the Movement.”
Intended to be an ongoing anthology series, the project will chronicle the contributions of prominent female figures to the civil rights movement.
The first season is inspired by the book, “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement,” by Devery S. Anderson.
A large group of A-listers including Jay-Z and Will Smith are executive producers of the multimillion-dollar film enterprise.
While the city of Greenwood seems to be the hub of project operations in Mississippi, the little town of Sumner will play a very large role.
The trial of Roy Bryant and half-brother J.W. Milam, charged with the kidnapping and murder of Till, was held in the Sumner courthouse. The men were acquitted there by an all-white, all-male jury. However, knowing they could not be prosecuted again for the crime due to the U.S. Constitution’s double jeopardy clause, the two later confessed to the gruesome act during a paid interview for a national magazine.
The availability and accessibility of the courthouse, and particularly the second-floor courtroom, which in recent years has been restored to its appearance at the time of the 1955 trial, helped lead filmmakers here.
“We are thrilled for the upcoming miniseries on Mamie and Emmett Till,” said Patrick Weems, director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner. “... We were told the courthouse was one of the main reasons for choosing Mississippi for the site of the miniseries.”
Sumner Mayor Jackson Webb said he is “looking forward to [the film project]” in his town, noting that “the story ... needs to be told.”
“It seems like a lot of people just don’t know the story of Emmett Till, and maybe this will bring some more attention to it,” Webb added. He said the miniseries also may increase interest in visiting the courthouse in Sumner, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as other area historic sites.
“Traffic is always a good thing,” he noted.
Speaking of that, the mayor said the filming will cause some inconveniences and asks everyone to “Just bear with us. We want to make sure everybody is welcome and safe.”
“The Square is not going to be completely shut down for any extended period of time,” Webb explained. “It will be shut down just when they’re doing actual shooting. ... They’ve assured me it won’t be shut down for a whole day or anything like that.”
Webb said operations at the bank and drug store in town should not be disrupted, adding, “It will be business as usual at most places.”
Some Hollywood magic will be utilized to turn back time around the Sumner Square, the mayor noted. For instance, The Sumner Sentinel, a former newspaper here, will be visible on the Square once again.
“They’re going to make it look like 1955,” he said.
Some local businesses will be utilized by the filmmakers, either for actual shooting or other purposes.
“They’re going to be shooting in the Tyner law office and the home health services building, which is the old MP&L building,” said Webb. “They’re also shooting inside the Sumner Clinic building, which is closed anyway, and they’re going to shoot inside the Till Center.”
Some of the vacant buildings around town will be utilized for other practical purposes, such as makeshift hair and makeup studios for the actors, including local extras who have been recruited.
Webb said Sumner Grille will be closed, because the restaurant will be catering food strictly for the film crew.
As for security, the mayor said the Sumner Police Department will be involved.
“I’m sure they have some security, but they’re going to use our police force, and I’m sure they’ll probably use some of Sheriff Fly’s guys,” Webb stated. “We will be providing police protection, and they will be paying for that and they will be paying overtime, as well, at no expense to the town.”
Webb said he hopes to be able to provide daily updates.
“I will try to let people know every day, this street is going to be closed for two hours, today the Square is going to be shut down from 8 until 11, or whatever,” he explained. “Some of the film work will be done at night, so it won’t be a big deal.”
Emmett Till’s murder and the subsequent miscarriage of justice proved to be a major catalyst for the young civil rights movement, and Till’s mother did all she could to ensure that her son’s racially-motivated death was not in vain.
In ordering that the top of Till’s casket remain open despite the body’s badly disfigured face, Mamie courageously told press at the time, “Let the people see what they did to my boy!” Tens of thousands of people converged on the Chicago funeral home to view the body, and the subsequent funeral was open to the public. Photos spread around the world.
Mamie toured the country for the NAACP, recounting events about her son’s life, death and the trial. She remained an outspoken advocate for social change and racial justice the rest of her life.
Sections of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020, a bill introduced in the fall of 2020 but not voted on by the 116th Congress that seeks to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Till and Till-Mobley, Mamie’s activism and influence are highlighted.
Section 4: “Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, demonstrated her love for her son and her courage and strength in suffering in the days that followed as she brought the body of Emmett Till back to Chicago for burial and demanded an open casket funeral, which drew more than 50,000 attendees.”
Section 5: “Mamie Till-Mobley further allowed a photograph to be taken of Emmett Till in his casket, which was shown throughout the world.”
Section 6: “The original casket of Emmett Till stands on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture as an enduring reminder of the racial violence that is a part of the history of the United States that the people of the United States must confront.”
Section 7: “The heroic actions of Mamie Till-Mobley in the midst of evil, injustice, and grief became a catalyst for the civil rights movement and continued in the years to come as she worked for justice and honored the legacy of Emmett Till.”
Section 8: “Mamie Till-Mobley went on to create the Emmett Till Players, which was a significant national cultural contribution as teenagers traveled throughout the country presenting Martin Luther King Jr. speeches in the name of Emmett Till.”
Section 9: “Mamie Till-Mobley also served as chair and co-founder of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, which had the dual mission of reopening the murder of Emmett Till for a reinvestigation and a passage into law of Federal legislation to ensure that other racially motivated murders during the civil rights era were investigated and, when possible, prosecuted.”
Section 10: “The efforts of the Emmett Till Justice Campaign led to the successful joint investigation by the State of Mississippi, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Justice in 2004, the passage of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 ..., signed into law by President George W. Bush, and the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016 ..., signed into law by President Barack Obama.”
Section 11: “The people of the United States honor the legacy of Emmett Till and the incredible suffering and equally incredible courage, resilience, and efforts of Mamie Till-Mobley that led to the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s.”
Mamie Till-Mobley died of heart failure in 2003, at the age of 81.
This story has been expanded from its original print version.