Three University of Mississippi students who posed, armed with guns, at the plaque marking the place where lynched civil rights icon Emmettt Till was pulled from the Tallahtachie River have been suspended by their fraternity, officials with the organization said.
The “hurtful and offensive” photo was posted to Instagram earlier this year and shows three white students, two of them with guns, smiling and posing in front of the purple marker. According to a report by ProPublica and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, all three are members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity house.
Ole Miss student Ben LeClere is seen posing with a shot gun while his frat brother, John Lowe, squats below the sign. A third unidentified fraternity member cheeses with an AR-15 style rifle clutched in his hands.
LeClere posted the photo March 1 with the caption: “one of Memphis’s finest and the worst influence I’ve ever met,” referring to Lowe, who was celebrating a birthday.
The outlet said it’s unclear whether the young men shot at the sign, which has been vandalized repeatedly in the past, or simply posed in front of it. Either way, Kappa Alpha’s national office denounced the image and said it “does not represent our chapter.”
“The chapter has suspended the men in the photo,” the frat said in a statement.
“The making of the photo was unrelated to any event or activity of our chapter,”it added, saying the organization only learned of the photo until recently. “The photo is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter. We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University.”
Till, who was kidnapped, brutally beaten and shot execution-style after he allegedly whistled at a white woman, would’ve turned 80 years old on July 25. His body was found floating along the Tallahatchie River on August 5, 1955.
The suspects, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were acquitted in Till’s murder then confessed to it two years later,
“I didn’t intend to kill the n-gger when we went and got him – just whip him and chase him back up yonder,” Milam told “Look” magazine in 1957. “But what the hell! He showed me the white gal’s picture! Bragged o’ what he’d done to her! I counted pictures o’ three white gals in his pocketbook before I burned it. What else could I do? No use lettin’ him get no bigger!”
The news of 14-year-old’s death, as well as the gruesome photos from his open-casket funeral, became a catalyst for the civil rights movement. In 2018, the federal government reopened its investigation of the case after receiving “new information,” though its unclear what that information was.
While the university backs Kappa Alpha’s move to suspend the three members, Ole Miss cannot take further action on the matter.
“While the image is offensive, it did not present a violation of university code of conduct. It occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event,” university spokesman Rod Guajardo said in a statement.
“We support the actions made by the Kappa Alpha Order leadership in suspending the students involved, and we are aware that this decision is backed by its National Administrative Offices,”he added. “We stand ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter.”
University of Mississippi officials didn’t respond to Atlanta Black Star’s request for comment.