Simeon Wright, the cousin who slept in the same bed as Emmett Till the night he was kidnapped and brutally murdered, passed away Monday morning at the age 74.
According to Wright’s wife, Annie, he died after suffering complications form a form of bone cancer, the Chicago Tribune reports.
For most of his life, Wright grew up in Money, Miss., where in 1955 a 14-year-old Emmett Till traveled from Chicago to visit Wright and other relatives for the summer.
Wright was with Till the day he allegedly whistled at a Carolyn Bryant at a convenience store as a prank. He was also with the teen the night Roy Bryant, Carolyn then-husband, and J.W. Milam, Roy’s half-brother, ordered him out of bed at gunpoint.
In 2009, Wright published a book detailing his eyewitness account of what happened
“When I opened my eyes, I saw two white men at the foot of my bed. One had a flashlight and a gun,” Wright told a Tribune columnist in 2014. “They ordered me back down. Emmett was still sleeping. They had to shake him to wake him up.”
Wright was 12 when Till was killed and afterward his family fled in fear, said Airickca Gordon-Taylor, a spokeswoman for the family and the co-founding director of the Mamie Till-Mobley Memorial Foundation.
The media spotlight was justifiably on Emmett Till, Gordon-Taylor said. But the rest of the family suffered immensely after the teen’s death.
“People often talked about Emmett, but Simeon had a story of his own,” Gordon-Taylor said. “That incident changed him as a person. It ripped his own family apart. It disrupted his life. He became bitter and angry.”
The two men accused of killing Till bragged to Look magazine about murdering the child. The entire incident reportedly filled Wright with an anger that he could only subdue with a religious conversion.
“He got through it with the Lord’s help,” his wife said. He channeled his energy into mentoring young boys and trying to teach them how to set goals and manage life’s setbacks and obstacles, she said.
Earlier this year, Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman at the center of the trial of Till’s killers, acknowledged that she falsely testified that Till had made physical advances and verbal threats.
The confession sparked a renewed interest into the Till tragedy and its role in history.
Wright is survived mainly by extended relatives and his wife.