Clinton Melton: A Mississippi Man Who Was Killed Mere Months After Emmett Till : Code Switch The murder of Emmett Till 65 years ago this week became a catalyst for the civil rights movement. Radio Diaries tells a lesser-known story of a Black man killed in a nearby town three months later.

Clinton Melton: A Man Who Was Killed In Mississippi Just 3 Months After Emmett Till

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This summer, videos of Black people killed by police officers have sparked outrage and a national movement for racial justice. Sixty-five years ago, it was a photograph.


A photograph of 14-year-old Emmett Till lying in a casket. Till was visiting family in the Mississippi Delta when he was kidnapped, brutally beaten and killed by white men after an accusation that he flirted with a white woman. Today, the story of another brazen killing in the Delta.

CORNISH: Just three months after Till's murder, in a neighboring town, a Black gas station attendant was shot to death in broad daylight by a white man. Radio Diaries brings us the story of Clinton Melton.

DELORIS MELTON GRESHAM: My name is Deloris Melton Gresham. I'm the daughter of Clinton Melton and Beulah Melton.

DORSEY WHITE JR: My name is Dorsey White Jr. I'm 86 years old. I am Beulah's nephew.

GRESHAM: Growing up, the house that we lived in, it was, like, on a little bayou like. It was always a happy home. My mom, she was a beautiful woman. Her nickname was pretty mama (ph). That's what everybody called her.

WHITE: Clinton Melton was what you call a good man. He worked hard, took care of his family. He was, you know, well respected by all of the Black people that knew him. And the white people that came in contact with him, they liked him also.

GRESHAM: My dad worked at a service station. He pumped gas, fixed flats. We used to stand and wait for him to come home. And, you know, even though we couldn't tell time, we knew what time he was supposed to be coming home.


WHITE: Glendora, Miss., was a little small plantation town, just a little postal stop on Highway 49. You know, at that time, you didn't have any protection as far as the law were concerned. It could just happen any time. You could be pulled over by a highway patrolman if you're driving a car and be abused. And a white person could, you know, start trouble, and no one would interfere. I guess you felt like a rabbit in the forest - is really what you felt like (laughter) because you didn't have nobody to run to.


W F MINOR: This is W.F. Minor, The Times-Picayune in Jackson, Miss. The kidnapping of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who disappeared on August 28...

WHITE: I was 20 years old when Emmett Till was killed. You know, it was the news of the day.


MINOR: Two white men.

GRESHAM: The kids at school would talk about Emmett Till and how they had thrown his body into the river. I remember being afraid to go to sleep at night because some white people might come in and do the same thing to my brothers.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The brutal lynching of Emmett Till demands the prosecution of all persons for this heinous crime.

KEITH BEAUCHAMP: Emmett Till wasn't the only racially motivated murder that took place in the summer of 1955 in Mississippi, but Emmett was the perfect poster child. My name is Keith Beauchamp, and I made the documentary "The Untold Story Of Emmett Louis Till." After the Till murder trial, you have two men who was involved with the murder of Emmett Till, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. And they are acquitted of all the charges by an all-white, all-male jury, and then they get to stand in front of the cameras and smoke cigars and so on. They would get off scot-free.

DAVE TELL: My name is Dave Tell, and I'm the author of "Remembering Emmett Till." The acquittal fueled this environment, this sense that violence against Black Americans would never be punished.

BEAUCHAMP: Something was bound to happen again. And three months later, just a few miles away, a 34-year-old gin operator drove to a gas station in Glendora, Miss.

TELL: On that day Elmer Kimball was driving the car of his good friend J.W. Milam, one of the confessed murderers of Emmett Till.

WHITE: They were friends. You know, they would hang out together, the Kimballs and the Milams. I guess they'd be drinking beer. So it was late in the afternoon near closing time when Kimball parked the car near the gasoline pump. Clinton approached them, and they told him to put the gasoline in.

GRESHAM: So my dad filled the car up with gas. And then when he had finished, he told them, you know, OK. You're finished. And he said, no, I didn't tell you to fill it up. I wanted $2 worth. And my dad told him - he said, I distinctly heard you say you wanted a fill-up.

WHITE: That's when the dispute came. They said he didn't put the right amount in there, so he told them again - said, well, I put in there what you told me.

GRESHAM: He told my father, well, don't be here when I get back. And so when he told him that, the service station owner told my father, Clinton, just go home, you know?

WHITE: Clinton started putting some fuel in his car so he could go home. And before he finished, they returned.

GRESHAM: When he came back with the gun, he shot it in the car. From what I was told, he had a bullet hole in his hand and a bullet through the head. I remember it was a rainy night, and we were actually in bed. My mother, she just came in. She was crying, and she was - just came and hugged each one of us, you know, and told us that your dad won't be coming back home. I remember asking her why, and she said, he got shot. Your daddy's dead.


BEULAH MELTON: I'm Beulah Melton, the wife of Clinton Melton. I have suffered a great loss, the loss of my husband from myself and my four kids.

GRESHAM: The news cameras came out, and they had a interview with my mom.


MELTON: We had great plans for Christmas. We had planned to get a tricycle for Vivian and a dining room (ph) set for Deloris...

GRESHAM: That's her voice. I like to hear her voice.


MELTON: Now how will I make this task by myself without some help from somebody?

BEAUCHAMP: Medgar Evers, who was a field secretary of the NAACP at that time, wanted to bring a national awareness to the Clinton Melton case, but Beulah felt that it could be dangerous and they could receive backlash.

WHITE: She had lost her husband, and she had these four children. You know, she didn't have no one to really depend on. So I'm sure that, you know, she was heartbroken, and I guess she was confused, too.


TELL: So the trial was set for March 1956, but just before then, days before the trial happened, Beulah Melton was driving, and her car ended up in the Black Bayou River.

WHITE: She had her children in the car with her when she made a wrong turn and went out in the water.

GRESHAM: My brother was 3 years old, and I was 5. We are in the car. The car is upside down. You know, you can feel the water just coming in. And my brother told me - he said, water getting in my face. And so I pulled him close up to me, and I was feeling around because I was actually trying to open the door. But, you know, if you upside down and everything, it's not in place. So I'm trying to feel the knob, and I felt my mom, but she wouldn't answer me. We didn't know how to swim. I was scared that we were going to drown. Finally, I heard my uncle and this other man come along, and he got us out. And I remember them taking my mom out, and she wasn't moving.

TELL: Headline - "Widow Drowns As Trial Opens." A widow who was set to attend the trial of a white man accused of gunning down her husband drowned under mysterious circumstances last week. Two of Miss Melton's children, Deloris and Clinton Jr., were rescued without serious injury.

GRESHAM: I was told later that we had been forced off the road, but they never did say who or what. But they were thinking that it was because my mom was going to attend the trial and somebody didn't want her there. Was it an accident, or were we forced off the road, or what? I don't think anybody really investigated to see what actually happened to her. I would like to know.

TELL: When the Clinton Melton trial began, it opened in the same courthouse where Till's murderers were tried just five or six months before. The same sheriff was on hand. The same lawyers were defending the defendants.

BEAUCHAMP: But maybe one of the most interesting connections was something that was not known at the time - that Elmer Kimball was an accomplice to the murder of Emmett Till. We now know Kimball was involved with both murders.

TELL: But in both cases, the juries ignored evidence. And there was a unanimous verdict - not guilty.

GRESHAM: How could they sit there and know that this man had killed another human being and they still find him not guilty? I really don't like to say this because - God, remove that from my heart, but I had in my mind at that time that every white person I saw - that I would just like to just shoot them, let them see what it felt like.


GRESHAM: After my mom and dad died, my aunt, she adopted all four of us, and she had three children of her own. We often talked about what it would be like, you know, if our mom and dad was living. At times, I could actually picture the house where we lived at and everything that was in it - the bed. I remember the big heater that sat in the middle of the floor and the kitchen, the kitchen table. I remember she had some red curtains in one of the windows. I remember that. At that age, you don't think you need these memories.


CORNISH: Deloris Melton Gresham, the daughter of Clinton and Beulah Melton. Today Clinton Melton's name is engraved at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., honoring victims of lynching in the United States.

This story was produced by Joe Richman of Radio Diaries with help from Sarah Kate Kramer and Nellie Gilles. It was edited by Deborah George and Ben Shapiro. You can hear more stories on the Radio Diaries podcast.


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.