Chris Crowe- The Making of “Mississippi Trial, 1955”

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Article by Lizzie Kurban - SJHS Student Staff Writer

In Ms. Piña and Ms. Ottley’s 9th grade English classes, they've recently been learning about the civil rights movement and reading the book Mississippi Trial, 1955. Mississippi Trial is a historical fiction novel about the infamous murder case of young Chicago native Emmett Louis Till. These 9th grade students recently got the golden opportunity to meet with Chris Crowe, the author of Mississippi Trial. They got to listen to him speak about the history behind the book, the process of how he gathered information for it and created his fictional characters, and writing stories in general.  

In an article written by Chris Crowe called, “Where Did Mississippi Trial, 1955 Come From?” Crowe explains that first got the idea for this novel while working on another novel of his about Mildred D. Taylor, a Newbery medal winning author. He had never heard of Emmett Till before this; while reading an autobiographical essay of Mildred Taylor he saw that she mentioned that the murder of Emmett Till had a big impact on her when she was young. He did some research on Emmett Till and  said, “I was stunned by what I found.” He read an article in Jet Magazine about the murder case and saw a picture of Emmett’s mutilated corpse, he further explains how upsetting this was for him, “The more I read, the more shocked, for many reasons, I was. I was shocked that I had never heard of a case that was as widely covered in 1955 as this one was. I was shocked at the terrible nature of the crime. I was shocked that this case is virtually forgotten in the teaching of U.S history.” He wanted American teenagers to be caught about Emmett Till and the bogus trial of his murder, seeing as in his words it was “the trigger of the Civil Rights movement.” That this nefarious, hateful crime should not be forgotten.

Crowe decided to write a novel on this. He thought that historical fiction would be the way to do it, seeing as he didn’t want it to just be about the murder case, he wanted a story behind it. He wanted to make it seem more real, and from an outside perspective.  He started on his research, he read up a lot about the Civil Rights movement and about the the Jim Crow laws in Mississippi at the time. He read about the murder, he read books that had already been written about it, like “Death in the Delta” and “Emmett Till: Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil Rights Movement” He even traveled down to Mississippi in the same week of August that Emmett Till had went. He went there to really get a feel for life in the delta. He visited the town, he talked to the locals, he even met an old blind veteran who had been alive at the time of the case who would later become a character in the story. Amongst all of the research he did, he even got talk with Emmett Till’s mother. All of his research was in place and he started the writing process, except there was one problem, he couldn’t figure out which perspective to tell the story from. He thought about having it from the perspective of one of Emmett’s cousins, but that didn’t seem to fit. He eventually came to the decision that it should be told from the perspective of an outsider, which is where Hiram came from. He took some things from his own childhood and weaved it into Hiram’s story. While writing this story he wanted to keep it as true to history as possible, which is where he gave a great tip for writing historical fiction in general. He explained to us, “It has to be like you’re wrapping  wire around a pole. The pole has to be the true history, the facts and nothing but the facts, and the fiction is the wire that you have to wrap around it.”

Mississippi Trial was a great book, definitely a book that you should take the time to read. Crowe told a story that needs to be told and not forgotten. In this novel you learn about how harmful hate and prejudice can be. It teaches us how wrong the ways of the past were, we can learn a lot from it; If people learn this lesson we can all learn to never repeat the awful past. Humans are humans, no matter what their color, and if we can all learn that then the world would be a much better place.