By: Davis Houck
When Emmett Till’s body was pulled from the muddy Tallahatchie River on Wednesday, August 31, it proved terribly important that he was supposedly found on the Tallahatchie County side of the river, and not the Leflore County side. As such, Sheriff Henry Clarence (H.C.) Strider would be in charge of the murder investigation.
Strider, who owned a large plantation near Webb, initially claimed that the body was in fact Emmett Till’s, and that it had likely been in the river just two days. He signed a death certificate claiming as much and even issued an arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant. Strider’s initial outlook changed radically, however, once the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Mamie Till publicly expressed their anger with the state of Mississippi. Roy Wilkins’ words, in particular, proved to be a fulcrum in public opinion about the case. “It would appear from this lynching that the State of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children,” wrote the Executive Director. “The killers of the boy,” he continued, “felt free to lynch him because there is in the entire state no restraining influence of decency, not in the state capital, among the daily newspapers, the clergy, nor any segment of the so-called better citizens.” Almost as soon as the NAACP’s Executive Secretary’s incendiary words were published in Mississippi newspapers, public opinion changed—including Sheriff Strider’s. Specifically, the Tallahatchie County Sheriff now openly doubted whether the body that was pulled from the river was Till’s. Even more damning, at the murder trial in September, the supposedly prosecuting sheriff actually testified for the defense, and its claim that the body was planted in the river by the NAACP.
Also during the trial, Strider only permitted black journalists to assemble around a small card table, and he infamously greeted the group each morning with, “Good morning, niggers.” Strider’s popularity with white Deltans was such that he later became a state senator representing Grenada and Tallahatchie Counties. Following his death in 1970, a stretch of Highway 32 connecting Webb with Charleston was re-named the Henry Clarence Strider Memorial Highway. The Strider Highway intersects with the Emmett Till Memorial Highway in Mamie Till Mobley’s hometown of Webb.