Po Monkeys

By: Dave Tell

On April 29, 2010, a doctor and a businessman from Jackson (both of whom prefer to remain anonymous) met Luther Brown for dinner at this juke joint.
At the time, Brown was a professor at Delta State University and Director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning. It was a momentous dinner for Emmett Till commemoration; the result was the first and only commemorative marker in Money, MS.

The story begins on October 17, 2009. On that day, the two aforementioned Jackson citizens were participating in the “Great Mississippi Road Trip” organized by the Mississippi Center for Justice, a public interest law firm based in Jackson. Late in the afternoon, the tour stopped at the site of Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market in Money. The tour guide was Luther Brown. With a bus-full of tourists gathered in front of the crumbling building, Brown told the story of how the Till saga began. On the evening of August 24, 1955, he explained, Till and his cousins skipped church in order to frequent the Grocery and buy candy. Till whistled at shopkeeper Carolyn Bryant, and three days later he was kidnapped by Bryant’s husband and half-brother. Three days after that, his mutilated body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River.

As the months passed, these two Jackson citizens never forgot the story they heard in Money. It bothered them that a story of such importance was insufficiently memorialized. At that time, there was no marker at the store. In fact, there was not a single marker in all of Leflore County commenting on the case. They wanted to do something about it. To this end, they set up a dinner in April 2010 with Luther Brown. The dinner was held here, at Po Monkey’s, a legendary juke joint and an important part of Mississippi Blues History. At the dinner they discussed the possibility of a sign outside of Bryant’s Grocery. As one of the Jackson citizens remembers the dinner, “By the time we finished our Bud Lights, we had pledged a total of $4000.”

By the time of the Po Monkey’s dinner, Luther Brown had already been in conversation with Greenwood’s Allan Hammons about the possibility of a “Civil Rights Trail.” Along with Wanda Clark, Hammons had done the graphics for the massively successful “Mississippi Blues Trail.” There was a desire to make an analogous “Civil Rights Trail,” but there was no money. At least, there wasn’t any money until the Bud Lights were finished at Po Monkeys. With a check in hand, Brown called Hammons and State Senator Willie Simmons. With momentum now moving in the right direction, Tougaloo College donated money to fund markers to Medgar Evers and the Freedom Riders. The combined money from Tougaloo and the private Jackson citizens was sufficient to fund the first five markers on the new “Freedom Trail.”

In April of 2011, the sign that now stands in front of the Bryant Grocery & Meat Market became the first sign of the Mississippi Freedom Trail. The sign was produced by Allan Hammons and the text was written by Luther Brown. Although you will find no evidence of this on the sign, it was funded by two private Jackson citizens who were committed to preserving Till’s story.

Thus it was that a juke joint dinner led to the first Till commemoration anywhere in Leflore County. The sign might be 43 miles southeast of this spot, but it has its origins here, over a couple of Bud Lights.