Mississippi Trial, 1955 Summary and Study Guide

Chris Crowe

Mississippi Trial, 1955

  • 34-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 17 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a PhD in English
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Mississippi Trial, 1955 Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 34-page guide for “Mississippi Trial, 1955” by Chris Crowe includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 17 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Father-Son Relationships and Southern Pride.

Plot Summary

Chris Crowe’s Mississippi Trial, 1955 (2002) is a piece of historical fiction based on a true story about Emmett Till that took place in the Mississippi Delta right on the brink of Civil Rights Movement. Visiting family in Money, Mississippi, in the summer of 1955, Till was abducted and murdered for “allegedly whistling at a white woman in the Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market” (231). The all-white male jury acquitted the two men who were arrested and tried, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. Even so, the trial itself made waves on a national and international stage. Crowe explains how “in an interview published in Look magazine three months after their acquittal, Bryant and Milam described how they had kidnapped, tortured, and finally murdered Emmett Till” (231). The third party involved was never identified.

The story is told through the eyes of Hiram Hillburn, whose family is from Mississippi, though his father does not share any of the sentiments that many in the South do. Hiram spends his early childhood in Greenwood and is raised by his grandparents while his father finishes up school. He recalls his excursions with his Grampa and the warmth and comfort of his Gramma’s cooking. Shortly after his Gramma passes away, his father moves his family to Arizona, where he has a job to teach college English. The job also allows a move away from the racial prejudice and narrow-minded thinking that pervades the South. Devastated by the move, Hiram eventually goes to spend a summer with his Grampa, where many of his memories from childhood are clouded by his more mature perspective.

Everything looks as he remembered, but he is now more aware of the people and their thoughts and actions, as well as his own responses to them. In his first solo fishing trip upon his return, he falls asleep on the riverbank and wakes up to the sound of cries for help. He rescues a young African-American teenager from Chicago from drowning in the river, who turns out to be Emmett Till. Sometime later, Hiram runs into an old neighborhood friend, R.C. Rydell, who suggests they go on a fishing trip together. Once again, he has an encounter with Emmett, but this time it is not as friendly. R.C.’s deeply-embedded racism automatically pits him against Emmett, and R.C. physically and verbally harasses him. Hiram does not take much action to stop the assault, and afterwards he feels immensely shameful and guilty. Not too long after, Emmett’s corpse is found in the Tallahatchie River, and everything in Greenwood comes to a boiling point as two white men go on trial for the murder.

Hiram has to delay his return home to Arizona, lest he be called as a witness during the trial. He agonizes over what to do and what to say. His Grampa and his young love, Naomi, discourage him from testifying. However, he sees it as the only morally right thing to do. Hiram continues to see the unjust nature of the legal system and society in the South and begins to sympathize with his father’s perspective. After the men are acquitted, Hiram continues to obsess over the trial. Not until a chance encounter with a strange neighbor does he begin to realize that his Grampa is somehow connected to the entire case, a fact that deeply troubles him. As the story develops, we are taken through Hiram’s own coming-of-age tale, where he assesses his conscience and has experiences that mold his emotional and ethical maturation and his overall view on relationships.

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Chapters 1-3