Mississippi Trial, 1955 Summary

Chris Crowe

Mississippi Trial, 1955

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Mississippi Trial, 1955 Summary

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Published in 2002, but set in the 1950s, Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe is the fictionalized story of the kidnapping and murder of a real African American boy, Emmett Till, by some white folk in Mississippi, because of his race and his standing. The two major characters in the book are two boys that share a lot in common: both are not originally from Mississippi, and are visiting family from out of state, and both are painfully aware of the racial tensions that divide the city of Greenwood, but both have one major difference, the black Emmett Till is killed for being so, and the white Hiram Hillburn cannot understand why.

The story begins with a little bit of Hiram Hillburn’s history. He is the grandson of Grampa Earl Hillburn, who Hiram grows up to discover is a raving racist. After his wife’s death, Grampa Earl is furious to know that Harlan, Hiram’s father, wants to keep him away from Greenwood because of the race issues that have begun to escalate in Mississippi. Hiram does not understand what the big deal is, and this causes major friction between father and son, and puts a strain on their already rocky relationship. However, after his grandfather suffers a stroke, Hiram convinces his father to let him visit his grandparent’s house. It is there where he meets the cousin of his Grampa’s housekeeper: Emmett “Bobo” Till. After getting off on the wrong foot, while out, Hiram hears yelling coming from the river, discovers that Emmett has fallen in while trying to catch a turtle, proceeds to save him from drowning, and the two become close friends.

It slowly becomes difficult for young Hiram to understand the reasons behind racism, the closer he and Emmett bond. While out with his mean and obnoxious friend R.C. Rydell, Hiram runs into Emmett, and mentions the big lunch they just had, but when Emmett asks for something to eat, R.C. becomes enraged that he would ask two white kids for some food, and tortures Emmett by shoving raw fish down his throat.

Later, while Hiram is on a short-lived date with R.C.’s sister, Naomi, a girl he had been infatuated with for years, R.C. approaches him, and tells him that he and a bunch of other white men are going into town to find and punish a black kid who had allegedly insulted a white woman by whistling at her, and immediately Hiram knows that that boy is Emmett.

Worried that something might have happened, Hiram later hears that Emmett had been abducted, and a couple of days later, Emmett’s body is found floating in the river, dead. Two white men are arrested because of it, and Hiram struggles over the dilemma of coming forward and testifying on Emmett’s behalf against R.C., who had clearly told him about going after the boy. Hiram finally comes to the conclusion of agreeing to be called on as a witness, not only because Emmett was his friend, but because it is the right thing to do. This is a concept unknown to his Grampa, who is livid that Hiram would do this, and tarnish their reputation by going against two white men over the hanging of an African American.

Despite the conflict between grandfather and grandson, Hiram ends up never being called on to testify as a witness, and the two white men are acquitted of all charges. Hiram is obviously upset, and is looking forward to getting out of this racist town, but feels a little uneasy and suspicious about the fact that his own Grampa is just as excited to have Hiram return to Arizona. Hiram does a little more digging and discovers that his grandfather was seen hanging around with the men who murdered Emmett days before, prompting Hiram to approach his Grampa about it. Grampa Earl admits he took part in Emmett’s kidnapping, but is completely without remorse.

Hiram is furious with his Grampa’s attitude, and goes to meet with Naomi to sooth his confused brain and his damaged heart. He doesn’t find her, but he does run into R.C., who admits that although he had considered going after Emmett with the white men, he decided on leaving Greenwood and starting a better life for himself. He had only returned to take care of some unfinished business, which later is revealed to be having a final violent fight with R.C. and Naomi’s abusive father. It is also revealed that Naomi is gone to a better place as well.

Taking this as a sign, Hiram decides to leave his grandfather too, realizing that they will never see eye to eye on such a major matter such as race, and heads to the train station to go back to Arizona. At the station he sees Naomi, who comforts Hiram with the fact that now that she is away from her abusive home life, she is going to be okay.

Hiram returns home, and his father Harlan, picks him up at the station. With both of them now on similar sides of such a divisive issue, and Hiram now with open eyes and a lot more experience in the matter, the two begin to patch things up, strengthening their bond as father and son.

This novel is a powerful look on racism in the 1950s, and it is expressed even earlier, when Hiram is seven years old, and his grandfather takes him to the cotton fields and shows him all the black workers, and the way they are treated. Besides racism, the other themes are quite clear in this literary piece, especially the struggle for justice, doing what is right, and not judging a person too quickly, whether it is a white person judging a black person, a son judging a father, or a young man judging a world he believes is prejudiced, even though most of the time, that is exactly how it seems.