‘The Trees’ by Percival Everett – The Revenge of Emmett Till


‘The Trees’ by Percival Everett   (2021) – 308 pages


The lynching and murder of Emmett Till is a horrific example of United States white racism, past and present.

Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy from Chicago visiting his relatives down South in Money, Mississippi during the summer of 1955. Emmett and his cousin went to the Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to buy candy. Twenty-four year old Carolyn Bryant, wife of the proprietor, was alone in the store waiting on customers. Emmett may have whistled at and may have said a few words to the woman. Mrs. Bryant told her husband Roy about the incident. Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam abducted Emmett from his grandfather’s house, took him away, beat and mutilated him, then shot him in the head, and sank his body in the Tallahatchie River.

Later an all-white jury found Bryant and Milam not guilty of Emmett Till’s murder. The “not guilty” verdict was based on Carolyn Bryant’s testimony. Carolyn Bryant admitted in a 2008 interview that some of her testimony at the trial was false.

Emmett Till was only one of thousands of black people and people of other races who were murdered by white people for no good reason, and the murderers went unpunished.

‘The Trees’ takes place in Money, Mississippi. Two black Special Detectives are sent from Hattiesburg to investigate the mysterious murders of Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam. Along with these white men’s bodies, there is the badly decomposed body of a black man.

You know what they be sayin’,” she said.

What’s that?”

That he’s the ghost of that boy Robert Bryant and J. W. kilt all them years back. They say he come back to get revenge. I guess he got it.”

In this town, even those in positions of authority like police officers and pastors use the N-word. This is Mississippi. The white locals use the N-word even when they are talking to black people.

When one of the black Special Detectives starts chatting with the waitress in the local diner, the other warns him,

You’re going to mess around and get yourself shot,” Ed said once they were on the street. “She could have some crazy-ass husband or boyfriend. You know, a stupid redneck with a gun.”

That’s redundant.”

In this novel only the black characters are intelligent and decent; the whites are all stupid crazy-ass rednecks and know-nothing peckerwoods wearing Trump hats. This is rural Mississippi.

May I remind you that we are in Money, Mississippi. Maybe I should say that again: Money, Mississippi. The important part of that is the word Mississippi. You do understand what I’m saying?”

This is the twenty-first century.” Jim said.

Yeah, well, tell that to those fuckers back there wearing Trump hats.”

‘The Trees’ starts out strong in this small Southern town, but when it goes farther afield and introduces a couple too many extraneous characters, its power gets somewhat diluted.


Grade:   B+



7 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t like books about revenge. I know there are times when people feel it’s warranted, and the pain of Emmett Till and other atrocities like it runs deep, but ultimately revenge only builds more hatred and vendettas until you get a situation like Yugoslavia and Ireland where people are nursing old grudges from centuries ago.
    What matters, IMO, is working collaboratively for justice and equality now.

    Liked by 1 person


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