Day 4: A Town Kept Alive By the Ghost of Emmett Till

Glendora, Mississippi

The abandoned cotton gin where Emmett Till’s murder began is now the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center, or ETHIC Museum. Photo courtesy of Cat Dillon.

As of 2010, the little town of Glendora had an official census population of 151. As of 2017, it was estimated that this number had dropped to a mere 137. Glendora was the closest thing to a true ghost town I’d ever seen on this side of the Mississippi. It was much different from the old ghost towns in the west; it was darker and it carried that weight, the same I kind felt in the Little Zion Graveyard. I think the difference for this “ghost town” rests on the fact that it wasn’t technically a real ghost town because people, about 137 of them, still lived there.

In a very odd twist, Emmett Till seems to be the only spirit keeping this place out of total oblivion.

The heaviness in Glendora is palpable. The Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center is housed within the confines of the building that held the fan and wire that was tied around Emmett Till’s body to weigh it down in the muddy waters. The museum attempts to trace the events that led up to Till’s murder as well as detail what happened to him. There were noises that indicated possible life — dogs barking from abandoned houses, a train or two, but there were no people to be seen, no children playing and hardly any cars actually in service driving around. Instead, many were left to rot out on weed ridden lawns next to old junk tires and other rusted scraps

Emmett Till’s ghost still walks around that cotton mill. Emmett wanders through the museum, ETHIC, slips into the glass cases and touches once again the items used to kill him, the knick-knacks picked up to show the rest of us how it went. He goes over to the body, made of rubber and cotton stuffing and half a suit, and stares. He never had a chance to see himself like that while he breathed. It still hurts to see himself like that dead.

When he’s had enough of that, enough of looking, he sits down beside one of his tombstones, in the transplanted gravel, and has himself a long thought. About his mother, Mamie, about Bryant and Milam, about Collins and Loggins, about the artist who made the mock truck, the mock body. He remembers his final thoughts, maybe considers the scars they left on what’s left of his body. He thinks about that ring he wore, probably glad he kept it on as he left Chicago one last time.

Ending our trip with a visit to ETHIC was an appropriate but heavy bookend to our journey to the Delta. Over the course of this class, we’ve ruminated on the idea that every Mississippi story is connected to Emmett Till’s murder. For every place we’ve visited in Mississippi, the web has become more complicated. This is how we keep his memory alive.