Simeon's Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till by Simeon Wright with Herb Boyd
published by Lawrence Hill Books
No modern tragedy has had a greater impact on race relations in America than the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy from Chicago whose body was battered beyond recognition and dumped in the Tallahatchie River while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, in 1955. This grotesque crime became the catalyst for the civil rights movement.
Simeon Wright saw and heard his cousin Emmett whistle at Caroline Bryant at a grocery store; he was sleeping in the same bed with him when her husband came in and took Emmett away; and he was at the sensational trial.
Simeon’s Story tells what it was like to grow up in Mississippi in the 1940s; paints a vivid portrait of Moses Wright, Simeon’s father, a preacher who bravely testified against the killers; explains exactly what happened during Emmett’s visit to Mississippi, clearing up a number of common misperceptions; and shows how the Wright family lived in fear after the trial, and how they endured the years afterward.
Simeon’s Story is the gripping coming-of-age memoir of a man who was deeply hurt by the horror of his cousin’s murder and, through prayer and hope, has come to believe that it’s now time to tell it like it was.
The foreword, by writer Herb Boyd, relates how he met Simeon Wright at a screening of a documentary about Till. Over the course of a few years, Wright was convinced to put his story in writing with help from Boyd. Boyd explains that it's Wright who tells the story (not him) and that he has merely added facts here and there to fill readers in more fully on the time and place. In the acknowledgments that follow, Wright thanks his wife for helping to convince him to share his story with Boyd.
Wright has told his story in plain but compelling language, and I felt as I read that I sat and listened to Wright telling it to me in person. There are only a couple of spots (near the beginning and near the end) where I sensed Boyd's intrusion, but even then the spell wasn't completely broken.
In addition to presenting a unique first-hand perspective of Emmett Till's last days, Wright reveals the story of his own life, which has been irrevocably shaped by Till's murder. Chapters near the end provide updates about the case, which was reopened in 2004, and the "Till Bill" that was signed into law in 2008.
In an appendix, Wright refutes several myths surrounding his cousin and the original trial of his murderers. The index is helpful for looking up names, things that modern young readers may be unfamiliar with (like the Sears catalog), and key locations like Bryant's grocery store.
There are a few black and white pictures integrated into the text, as well as a map and a layout of the Wright's home. The design and layout are not fancy; the gripping story is the main focus.