Friday, March 7, 2008

Getting Away With Murder, by Chris Crowe

Crowe, Chris (2003). Getting Away with Murder: the True Story of the Emmett Till Case. New York: Dial. 128 pages.

Summary and Evaluation: In this nonfiction telling of the murder of Emmett Till and the farcical trial that followed, Crowe puts the crime into context with the Southern way of life and tensions of the emerging Civil Rights movement. Emmett Till was a fourteen year black youth from Chicago who when he visited family in Mississippi was brutally murdered and left in the Tallahatchie River. After an historic indictment (almost no lynching ever went to trial), J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, the murders were tried and acquitted by an all white jury.

Learning about the Civil Rights Movement in school did not put in context everyday life for an African American in the South the way this book did. Knowing that up to that point, no white person had gone to trial for lynching and that it was accepted as part of life made the murder trial that much more important. Also, the murder could have been all but unnoticed if Emmett's mother, Mamie Till Bradley, had not instantly begun notifying the press of the incident. When the body of her son was finally returned to her, she insisted that the world see what they had done to her son. She allowed hundreds of irate citizens and the press to see Emmett's mangled body. The narrative of the trial was enhanced with high-quality photographs. It was only until I saw the photos of Milam and Bryant, playfully holding their children on their laps or happily lighting a cigar after the acquittal that I realized how apathetic the killers were to what they had done. No description of Emmett's corpse matched the photo of his mangled face and body.

While the message was powerful, the writing itself was a little disjointed. Tellings of the crime were often repeated in different section of the book. I also found it easy to get the many involved individuals confused. I often mistook the prosecuting attorney's words for the defense attorney's and had to flip back pages to ensure that I understood exactly who had done what.

Booktalk Hook: This book lends itself to the read aloud booktalk. Crowe includes concise newspaper articles that were printed around the time of the trial and contain detailed description of Emmett's body and the attitudes of the killers. I would select portions of the article on pages 68-69 to present to the group. It reports on the discovery of Till's body, its condition, and the possible murderers in such a way that it gives a sense of the ensuring injustice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that a book that would seem to do all the right things visually would suffer for poor writing (there's no excuse for making a reader have to flip back and count dialogue exchanges just to figure out who is saying what).
Amy P.