Built in 1920, the Delta Inn was a mansion that was the center of midcentury Sumner society and, during the trial, the site at which the jury was sequestered. With the help of renowned photographer Maude Schuyler Clay, the Emmett Till Memorial Commission crafted noncontroversial prose about the history of the hotel and its role in the trial. The prose was used for the lavender sign that once stood at this spot. At the urging of Plater Robinson, the commission inserted a final line that claimed a cross was burned in front of the Delta Inn midway through the trial—an event which was widely reported at the time.

Just before the commission was formed in late 2005, John Whitten III purchased the site of the then-crumbling Delta Inn. Whitten is a direct descendant of John Whitten II, defense lawyer who used his closing argument in the Emmett Till trial to admonish the jury, “Every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men.” Much like his father, Whitten III’s record on race relations is poor. In 2009, the NAACP accused him of a hate crime for organizing a vigilante mob to pursue an untried, unarmed African American man whom he believed was guilty of burglary. He chased the man in a World War II era armored tank.  

Shortly after purchasing the site of the Delta Inn, Whitten hired a Greenwood firm to take it down brick by brick. A newspaper reporter with a keen eye noted, “Once the structure is demolished and the property cleared, Whitten will be left with a spacious vacant corner lot facing the town’s Courthouse Square.” Predictably, Whitten was not excited about the prospect of a sign on his property commemorating the murder of Emmett Till. Although the sign did not mention his father’s role in the injustice, one can imagine that Whitten is not looking for ways to commemorate his father’s legacy. Interviewed by NPR, he said, “We didn’t do it. It didn’t happen here. This was something that was dragged in and left to rot in our courthouse. . . . [It was] a long time ago, part of history. I don’t think it should be denied. I don’t think it should be honored.” Apparently he also did not think it should be marked with a sign. Shortly after the signs were erected, Whitten was heard late at night on the square claiming that the Delta Inn roadside marker would end up on the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. Shortly thereafter the sign went missing; the police did not investigate, and it has never been replaced.

 

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