Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems
Professor of English
University of Missouri-Columbia

Professor of English
University of Missouri-Columbia
107 Tate Hall
Columbia, Missouri 65211

573-882-2783 (office)
917-715-2965 (cell)
email: HudsonweemsC@missouri.edu

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Emmett TillJanuary 29, 2003

Spirit and Redemption:
New Film Puts a Twist on the Emmett Till Story

MU professor, a renowned Emmett Till expert, wrote the screenplay

“Every last Anglo Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men.”

Those were the closing remarks of then 34-year-old defense attorney, John Whitten Jr., who  successfully defended the two men accused of brutally lynching Emmett Louis “Bobo” Till, the 14-year-old black Chicago youth who whistled at a 21-year-old white woman in Money, Miss. His murder, open casket funeral and trial are now seen as a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement.

Almost 48 years later, the monumental event will soon be turned into a feature film, Emmett: To Live For. With a script penned by renowned Emmett Till expert Clenora Hudson-Weems, an English professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Ford Doctoral Fellow, the film is set to be produced by Barry Morrow, the Oscar Award-winning writer of Rain Man.

“This is a story of the human spirit and the element of redemption,” said Hudson-Weems, who is author of the book, “Emmett Till: The Sacrificial Lamb and the Civil Rights Movement.” “In the script, Whitten is the redemptive spirit. His subsequent activities as legal representative for members of the black community whom he then opposed, makes possible for a racial healing for all to see without sacrificing the true legacy of Emmett Till.”

For more than 17 years, Hudson-Weems has firmly contended that Till’s murder, not Rosa Parks’ refusal to relinquish her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala., sparked the Civil Rights Movement. Parks’ demonstration was more palatable than Till’s bloated face, which was mutilated beyond recognition from the flogging, the lynching, the gunshot wound to the side of his head, and the 70-pound cotton gin fan tied to his neck with barbed wire that anchored him down in the Tallahatchie River.

Despite the emphasis on redemption through a white hero, Hudson-Weems said, the screenplay does not soften the ugliness of Till’s murder or diminish his place as an unfortunate martyr in the Civil Rights Movement. Rather, the twist allows for a more complete story of his brutal murder and illustrates the far-reaching and long-lasting impact of it on both people and society.

“There is a misconception that African Americans believe whites show no remorse for their past actions toward African Americans,” said Hudson-Weems’ agent. “But we as Americans redeem ourselves by doing good. This is an American story and Hudson-Weems’ script goes beyond the history lesson. As Till catapulted us into a movement, so can this film advance us to a reconciliation.”

Thus, Hudson-Weems says, Whitten goes from personal gains as reflected in his choice to defend the murderers, to his current stance of remorse saying, "Misery, misery, [absolute] misery."


© 2003 The Curators of the University of Missouri and Clenora Hudson-Weems, Ph.D.

Department of English
College of Arts and Science
University of Missouri-Columbia
Last update: December 23, 2016