Cover image for Mississippi trial, 1955
Mississippi trial, 1955
Publication Information:
New York : Speak/Penguin Group, 2003.
Physical Description:
231 pages ; 17 cm
General Note:
"First published in the United States of America by Phyllis Fogelman Books, an imprint of Penguin Putnam Inc., 2002"--Title page verso.
Reading Level:
870 L Lexile
In Mississippi in 1955, a sixteen-year-old finds boy himself at odds with his grandfather over issues surrounding the kidnapping and murder of a fourteen-year-old African American from Chicago.


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Winner of the 2003 International Reading Association Award for Young Adult Novel. This gripping read is based on the true events of the murder of Emmett Till, one of the nation's most notorious crimes that helped spark the Civil Rights Movement .

At first Hiram is excited to visit his hometown in Mississippi. But soon after he arrives, he crosses paths with Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago who is also visiting for the summer. Hiram sees firsthand how the local whites mistreat blacks who refuse to "know their place." When Emmett's tortured dead body is found floating in a river, Hiram is determined to find out who could do such a thing. But what will it cost him to know?

Author Notes

Chris Crowe is the author of several books, most notably Mississippi Trial, 1955, which won several awards, including the 2003 International Reading Association's Young Adult Novel Award. His nonfiction book, Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case , was an Jane Addams Honor book. His first children's book, Just As Good: How Larry Doby Changed America's Game , appeared in 2012. Chris married his high school sweetheart, and they live in Provo, Utah, where he works in the English department at BYU. They are the parents of four children and grandparents of two lovely girls and three handsome boys.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Basing his promising debut novel on historical events, Crowe adopts the point of view of a white teenager confronting racism in the 1950s South. Hiram Hillburn has resented his civil-rights-minded father ever since the age of nine, when his parents moved him from his adored grandfather's home in Greenwood, Miss., to the more liberal climate of an Arizona college town. Now that he is 16, Hiram has finally been permitted to visit Grampa Hillburn again. Crowe takes a bit too much time before arriving at the central action: the lynching of Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago who reputedly made "ugly remarks" to a white woman, and the nationally publicized trial, in which the murderers were acquitted. However, the author takes a nuanced approach to ethical dilemmas and his plotting seems lifelike. Events force Hiram to question his willingness to stand up for his beliefs and to reevaluate his understanding of the animosity between his grandfather and father. The characterizations are sketched with care, from the white lawyers who mock the black witnesses they cross-examine, to R.C., the bully whom Hiram suspects of participating in the crime, to R.C.'s sister, whom Hiram likes. If the conclusion feels a little hasty, Crowe's otherwise measured treatment will get readers thinking. Ages 12-up.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Hiram, who spent his early years in the Mississippi delta, returns at age sixteen to visit his widowed grandfather. After a local boy makes threats against a black teenager, Hiram informs the authorities. When Emmett Till is kidnapped and murdered, Hiram is subpoenaed. Documenting a shameful event in American history, the solid novel also thoughtfully charts the protagonistÆs evolving emotional growth. From HORN BOOK Fall 2002, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-12. The 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi and the trial of his racist killers are at the center of this strong first novel. Crowe tells the story through the eyes of a white teenager, Hiram, 16, who is spending the summer with his beloved grandpa. The boy meets young Emmett, a lively African American visitor from Chicago, who refuses to go along with the submissive ways expected of a good black boy in the segregated community. When Emmett is tortured and killed, Hiram believes he knows one of the perpetrators, and he attends the trial. The facts are horrifying, and Crowe stays true to the newspaper accounts. What moves this beyond docudrama is Hiram's relationship with Grandpa, which has always been strong, unlike that with his father. At times Hiram's relationship with Dad (mainly offstage) seems added on to the story, and there's just too much about the cute, small-town "characters." But Crowe shows violent racism in daily life as well as in the drama of the trial, and he adds an edgy whodunit mystery element that will hold readers to the end. Teens will recognize how easy it is for Hiram to be a bystander to bigotry and will feel the horror of his sudden awakening to the evil that is part of "normal" life. --Hazel Rochman

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-8-While visiting relatives in Mississippi, Emmett Till, 14, spoke "ugly" to a white woman and was subsequently tortured and murdered. Two men were arrested and tried for this heinous crime, but in spite of substantial evidence, were found not guilty. Crowe has woven the plot of his novel around these historical events. Hiram, the fictional main character, had lived with his grandparents in Mississippi as a child. Now 16, he returns to visit his aging grandfather, where he meets Emmett Till. He also renews a childhood acquaintance with R.C. Rydell, a redneck bully. When Emmett's mutilated body is found, Hiram immediately suspects that R.C. was involved. In a predictable twist at the end, he learns that it was his grandfather, not R.C., who helped the murderers. The Deep South setting is well realized. Descriptions of the climate, food, and landscape are vivid and on target. Likewise, Southern racial attitudes from the period are accurately portrayed. Grampa is a racist but Hiram enables readers to see his good qualities as well. Hiram himself seems rather naive. He is unable to fathom the racial prejudice at the root of his father's alienation from his grandfather. Nor does he feel the aura of racial fear and hatred that hangs over the entire region. The novel succeeds in telling Emmett Till's story, but there is an emotional distance that keeps readers from caring as deeply as they should about this crime. Still, it is a story that needs to be told. This book belongs in all collections to show young readers the full range of American history.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Historical fiction examines the famous case of Emmett Till, whose murder was one of the triggers of the civil-rights movement. Hiram Hillburn knows R.C. Rydell is evil. He watches R.C. mutilate a catfish, but does nothing to stop him. "I didn't want to end up like that fish," he says. He watches R.C. throw stones at a neighbor's house and humiliate 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African-American visitor from Chicago, and still he does nothing. Hiram says, "When things are scary or dangerous, it's hard to see clear what to do." When Till is brutally murdered, Hiram is sure R.C. is involved. Hiram, a white teenager who has come back to the Mississippi town where his father grew up, is the narrator and the perspective of the white outsider and the layers of his moral reflection make this an excellent examination of a difficult topic. When the case comes to trial, Hiram knows he must face his own trial: can he stand up to evil and do the right thing? He knows Mr. Paul, the local storeowner, is right: "Figure out what's right and what's wrong, and make yourself do the right thing. Do that and no matter what happens, no matter what people say, you'll have no regrets." This is a complicated thing to do, as Hiram must summon inner strength and come to terms with who he is-the son of an English professor who hates everything about the South and the grandson of a farmer who loves everything about it. Teen readers will find themselves caught up in Hiram's very real struggle to do the right thing. (Fiction. YA)