By: Davis Houck
The Greenwood Commonwealth was not the only newspaper serving the relatively small Delta community. Founded in 1946 by James “Jimmy” Alsop, The Morning Star was conceived by its founder as a progressive morning alternative to the Commonwealth. Alsop was inspired by his liberal friend and colleague to the west, Greenville’s Hodding Carter, Jr., who owned and published the Delta Democrat-Times.
Nearly two years after starting The Morning Star, though, Alsop died from a bleeding ulcer, collapsing on the pitching mound during an exhibition softball game. Pall bearers at his funeral included his close friend, Carter, and Byron De La Beckwith, the man who would later be convicted of murdering civil rights activist Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963.
Alsop’s wife Elizabeth eventually sold the newspaper in 1949 to a “hillbilly from east Tennessee,” Virgil Adams, a virulent racist who opined frequently during the Till case. One of Adams’ star writers for the newspaper was John Herbers, who would later work nearly 25 years for the New York Times covering civil rights and the South. Herbers stopped in to see his former boss just before the September 19 start of the Milam and Bryant trial; Adams quickly, revealed to Herbers what he could not say in his newspaper or in polite company: “Well, you know, they say that this guy was only fourteen years old, but what they’re saying now is that when they showed the body, he had a dong on him like this (Adams thrust out his forearm for emphasis).” Falling victim to the mythology of the unusually endowed black beast rapist mythology so pervasive in the Deep South, Adams’ private expression of Emmett Till’s presumed guilt eventually made it into his newspaper.
That is, following the not guilty verdict of September 23, Adams finally uttered the “r-word” in print: “Until this rape attempt case came up, many of us thought the writings of some of our better informed people about the danger which the Supreme Court decision brought to the nation were greatly exaggerated.” Emmett Till’s attempted rape of Carolyn Bryant, according to Adams, had proved once and for all that the 1954 Brown decision would lead to the “mongrelization” of the white race. Thus, in the span of just one month had Emmett Till’s whistle and flirtation at the Bryant Grocery and Meat Market become fixed in the white southern mind as a “rape attempt” and as proof that the Supreme Court was advocating interracial sex since black “men” simply couldn’t help themselves.