Created by Marissa Jo Cerar, ABC’s historical series ‘Women of the Movement’ centers around the true story of the abduction and murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African-American boy. The show progresses through the investigation and trial of the murder while depicting the reverberations of the incident in the American society of the 1950s. Since the show concludes with startling developments concerning the murderers of Emmett, the viewers must be eager to take a look at the ending in great detail. On that note, here’s everything you need to know about the denouement of ‘Women of the Movement.’ SPOILERS AHEAD.
Women of the Movement Recap
When Emmett’s great-uncle Mose Wright visits him and his mother Mamie in Chicago, the fourteen-year-old boy persuades Mamie to allow him to spend the summer with Mose and his family in Money, Mississippi. After much deliberation, Mamie agrees and Emmett travels with his cousins and great-uncle to the Southern state. One day during his stay, Emmett goes to a local store with his cousins. After getting provoked by other boys, Emmett approaches a White girl named Carolyn, who runs the store with her husband Roy Bryant.
When Carolyn dismisses him, Emmett comes out of the store and says goodbye to her. Furious, she finds a gun to scare the boys, who drive away. The incident stirs rumors in the town and Carolyn’s husband Bryant confronts her about the same. Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam go to Mose’s house and abduct Emmett after scaring the family with a pistol. Mose files a complaint with the police regarding the abduction. The sheriff questions Bryant, but he informs the sheriff that they released the boy in the same morning.
As the investigation progresses, a dead body gets found in the Tallahatchie River and Mose identifies it as Emmett’s. Meanwhile, Mamie seeks the help of the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. With the assistance of the organization, she meets several news reporters and succeeds in bringing media attention to Emmett’s case. When the authorities try to cover up the murder by burying the dead body in Mississippi itself, Mamie approaches a funeral home director and manages to bring the body to Chicago. She conducts an open-casket funeral for Emmett, to display the cruelty her son had to suffer.
The funeral of Emmett garners widespread attention. The district attorney manages to get Bryant and Milan indicted. Even though she gets threatened by an anonymous call, Mamie arrives in Mississippi to testify. Dr. Howard, one of the prominent Civil Rights leaders, welcomes Mamie. With the help of the NAACP, District Attorney Chatham finds witnesses who testify against Bryant and Milam. Mose Wright testifies against the accused men as well.
The defense attorney, on the other hand, tries to establish that the body found in the river is not Emmett’s. With the help of Tallahatchie County Sheriff Clarence Strider, the defense tries to incite doubts in the minds of the jury members regarding the identity of the dead body. In her testimony, Mamie assures that the body is indeed Emmett’s. Meanwhile, Carolyn testifies that Emmett made physical advances on her, used obscene and unprintable words, and wolf-whistled at her.
Women of the Movement Ending: Why Does the Jury Acquit Bryant and Milam?
After the testimonies of the witnesses, Chatham concludes the case by emphasizing the barbarity of the violence committed by Bryant and Milam. He reminds the jury that a true Southerner would not stoop to savagery towards a child. He demands the conviction of Bryant and Milam in his closing argument. However, the defense tries to evoke sympathy towards the accused men by emphasizing the Anglo-Saxon identity of both Bryant and Milam. The attorney tries to persuade the jurors to free the accused men by stating that their White ancestors will condemn them if they convict the two White men.
Rather than depending on truth, the defense tries to convince the all-white jury that Bryant and Milam are White men who need to be protected. The defense attorney’s statement that a verdict that goes against the White men will become a license to African-Americans to turn against the Whites influence the jurors. During their discussion, some of the jurors raise doubts regarding the identity of the body and try to justify the crime citing Carolyn’s testimony. After a very brief session, the jury decides to free Bryant and Milan, irrespective of the testimonies given by Willie Reed and other witnesses.
The decision of the jurors is a reflection of the state of the Judiciary in the Jim Crow South of mid 20th century. Even though racial hatred and segregation prevailed in Mississippi was a significant factor in Emmett’s murder, the jury consisted of White men alone. There wasn’t a single African-American member in the jury to look beyond the White-identity of the accused men and approach the verdict. The defense attorney’s horrendous attempt to influence the jury, citing the common White ancestry of both accused men and the jurors, was startlingly allowed. Without much deliberation regarding the witness testimonies and evidence, the all-white jury acquitted Bryant and Milam, without delivering the justice Emmett deserved.
Did Bryant and Milam Really Kill Emmett?
Based on his own confession, J. W. Milam killed Emmett Till with his half-brother Roy Bryant. After the acquittal of Bryant and Milam, the half-brothers sold their confession to William Bradford Huie, in the form of an interview, for ‘Look’ magazine. Due to their acquittal, Bryant and Milam came under the provision of double jeopardy, which prevents another trial from being pursued against someone who is acquitted. Thus, they confessed to killing Emmett in the interview without the fear of being tried again.
As per the interview, Bryant and Milam abducted Emmett to the latter’s family shed and started beating him. The men whipped Emmett using Milam’s .45 Colt automatic pistol. According to Milam, they only intended to scare Emmett but failed to do so. The confrontation finally ended with Milam firing a shot at Emmett and killing him. Bryant and Milam then barb-wired a cotton gin fan into Emmett’s dead body and dumped him to the Tallahatchie River. Due to the technicalities of the law of the time, Bryant and Milam weren’t convicted for killing Emmett even after their confession.