Emmett Till Audio Drama re-released by Destination Freedom: Black Radio Days

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Last month, the US Department of Justice closed its investigation into the murder of Emmett Till. The fourteen-year-old boy was brutally beaten, lynched and murdered after being falsely accused of making sexual advances to a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in Mississippi in 1955. After a book quoting Bryant admitting the false accusation, the Department of Justice reopened the case, but found there was a lack of evidence to lay new charges against Bryant and her husband, Roy Bryant.

In response to the survey, donnie l. betts reissued an episode of their podcast Destination Freedom: Black Radio Days which originally premiered in September 2020. “A Letter From Heaven to America From Emmett Till” is an audio drama starring Owen Zitek (as Till), Betty Hart (as Mamie Till), Brian Landis Folkins, Monique Brooks Roberts, Lionel Young, Annastezhaa Mitchell-Curtis and Paris.

“Families are still suffering; there is no sense of justice that has never been resolved, ”says betts. “Through the work of Mamie Till [Emmett’s mother], his story has been told. Till’s mother took her son’s body to Chicago in an open casket, and his murder sparked a change in the civil rights movement at the time.
“My focus for the reissue of the show was mainly due to the Justice Department’s decision,” says Betts. The episode focuses on injustice in the criminal justice system, using comparisons between Till’s murder and the ongoing police brutality in the country, highlighted by the murder of Elijah McClain in 2019.

Betts is a renowned conductor of all things theater and film, and has founded two theater companies in Denver – City Stage Ensemble and the Denver Black Arts Company – in addition to his film production company and videos, No Credits Productions. Between production, directing and performance, he was nominated for an Emmy for his film Dearfield: The road less traveled, a historical docu-fiction about the black farming community that settled in this city. Now he honors the legacy of the late Richard Durham by featuring stories that focus on black resistance in his reboot of audio dramas for Destination Freedom, which was also the name of the Durham radio show which ran from 1949 to 1951.

“The stories of people of color are still under-represented in the media,” says Betts, adding that it’s important to tell stories about ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. They may not be a senator or a member of Congress – they may be someone who runs an association or someone who just saw a need in the community. “

Click to enlarge The US Department of Justice recently closed the decades-long investigation into the murder of Emmett Till.  - DONNIE L. BETTS

The US Department of Justice recently closed the decades-long investigation into the murder of Emmett Till.

donnie l. Paris

He went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, rummaging through the archives and tapes of Freedom of destination‘s works on WMAQ in Chicago. There he connected with researchers, authors, academics and Durham’s widow, Clarice, to further the Durham legacy.

Betts also visited the Money, Mississippi funeral home where Till’s body was buried, and spoke to the funeral director. “It was years before I wrote the story” for the podcast, he says, “but the pictures were still in my head and in my heart.” In July 2020, betts interviewed Deborah Watts, Emmett Till’s cousin and founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, for her other podcast, The eclectic, which also debuted on Jan.5.

“They are still fighting for justice,” he said. “Although there isn’t much the US Department of Justice can do now, locally the Mississippi state and district attorney can do something. They can always press charges so Emmett can get justice.

Despite rare convictions like those of the murderers of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, police accountability remains low, Betts notes: “People say the system is down. I think it’s set up the way it’s always been done, and it’s not to do justice to people of color, to people who can’t afford lawyers. The system protects the system. The introduction of cell phones changed a lot of things. ”Betts is working on a film called Stop resisting, which will focus on the use of force in the United States and the traces left by body cameras and phones.

Listeners can tune in to future episodes of Freedom of destination focusing on the Stonewall Rebellion, written by T. Carlis Roberts, and a follow-up to “Give Me Liberty: A Free Man Story,” which premiered in September 2020. Betts is currently doing interviews for an episode of The eclectic on the black Kentucky Derby jockeys, which he plans to create in May. The episodes generally air every other Wednesday on the Broadway Podcast Network.

“I love the radio and I listened to a lot of old radios before I got interested in Freedom of destination. I love how it made me feel because I had to use my imagination, close my eyes and think. Much of my research is about whether this will make people close their eyes and think. If that gets them thinking, it will inspire more research, more education and maybe more justice, ”concludes Betts.

Subscribe and listen to the Destination Freedom: Black Radio Days on the Broadway Podcast Network or wherever podcasts are streamed.

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