"Mississippi Trial, 1955," a novel for young adults written by Brigham Young University English professor Chris Crowe, was honored with the International Reading Association's 2003 Children's Book Award for Young Adult Novels.
A fictionalized account of the true story of Emmett Till, whose tragic murder served as one of the triggers of the modern civil rights movement, is narrated by the voice of Hiram Hillburn, a white teenage boy who is awakened to the horrors of racism. His insights as related in the story help shed new light on this important chapter in American History.
Emmett, a fourteen-year-old black teenager from Chicago, was unaccustomed to the society of the segregated South. While visiting his uncle in Mississippi during the summer of 1955, he allegedly made flirtatious remarks to a white woman. A few days later Emmett was kidnapped and murdered.
Crowe's idea for the novel came as he was working on a book, "Presenting Mildred D. Taylor" about the Newbery medalist author. In an essay of Taylor's that Crowe was researching, she mentioned the impact Emmett's murder had on her when she was a child.
"At the time, I had never heard of Emmett Till, so I had no idea what she was talking about," said Crowe. "I knew I had to at least find out who he was in case it turned out to be something that influenced her own writing, something I should include in my book about Taylor."
Crowe was stunned at what he found, and the more he found, the more he was shocked--and for many reasons.
"I was shocked 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," said Crowe.
As a former high school English teacher, Crowe wanted American teenagers to know this story and its important place in American history.
"I decided historical fiction would be a great way for them to learn about it, and knew a novel couldn't be just about the murder case, but that it had to be about something else--something that is ultimately affected by Emmett's murder but is a story essentially separate from the murder," Crowe said.
"Mississippi Trial, 1955" has been honored with many awards including the 2003 Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the National Council for Social Studies, the 2003 Notable Book for a Global Society by the Children's Literature Group of the International Reading Association in the Young Adult Fiction category and the 2002 award for Best Novel from the Association of Mormon Letters.
Writing "Mississippi Trial, 1955" required research on the historical event and, since the case received so much media attention in 1955, Crowe had ample material to work with. He wrote a nonfiction book, "Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case," which uses original material from the case, including more than 40 photographs depicting the historical context of Mississippi in 1955 to tell the story of Emmett's murder as accurately as possible.
Direct quotations from newspapers or first-person accounts were often used. The final chapters of the book show the powerful impact the Till case had on America, including its catalytic effect on the civil rights movement.
"Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case" was nominated for the 2004 Best Books for Young Adults list of the American Library Association.
"Mississippi Trial, 1955" and "Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case" are published by Phyllis Fogelman Books/Penguin Putnam.