The Ballad of Emmett Till Continues


On August 28, 1955, fourteen-year-old Emmett Louis Till was roused from his slumber and escorted from the home of his uncle by a group of white men. The men put young Till in a vehicle and drove down a dark Mississippi road; Till would never again be seen alive. A few days later his body washed ashore on the banks of the Tallahatchie River. His body bloated, having been weighed down by a seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan with barbed wire. His eyes gouged; his tongue cut out, his skull nearly severed in two, his genitals mutilated, and a bullet hole exposed daylight at his temples. What had this young man done to deserve such a punishment? He allegedly whistled at a white woman.

Sixty years later, his accuser, Carolyn Bryant Donham admitted to a historian that she lied about the encounter with Till. She still lives, freely, having never been charged as an accessory to the teenager's murder. The same was true for her former husband and brother in-law, the men who beat and murdered Emmett Till. They were acquitted by an all jury, but later extolled their murderous rampage in detail to Look Magazine.

Fast forward to 2018, Quintez Cephus, a wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, was criminally charged with two counts of sexual assault. While Cephus always maintained his innocence, UW officials suspended him from the football team last August, per UW's Student-Athlete Discipline Policy, after the Dane County district attorney's office filed sexual assault charges. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Cephus was subsequently expelled for a non-academic misconduct violation. In the wake of Quintez Cephus' acquittal on August 2, 2019, he petitioned to be readmitted to the University of Wisconsin. There was hesitation on the part of UW officials when considering Cephus' petition. While the university eventually agreed to readmit Cephus, his accusers have publicly questioned that decision-believing that readmitting him shows proves the university does not support assault victims.

The reality is, Quintez Cephus was acquitted of all charges. He suffered the loss of an academic year, lost a year of NCAA eligibility, and bore the brunt of media scrutiny. And even after being found not guilty, he was made to beg for readmission to the university, who for ten days allowed his academic livelihood hang in the balance. So, I ask who is the actual victim?

Like Emmett Till, Quintez Cephus was accused. Like Emmett Till, Quintez Cephus suffered. And just like Emmett Till, Quintez Cephus' accusers have attempted to silence him by questioning his worthiness to attend the University of Wisconsin. This just proves that for African American men, even when they are proven innocent, legal justice may not be enough.