Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life

The Forgotten Story of Clinton Melton

Earlier this month, the Senate unanimously passed legislation that would make lynching a federal hate crime. The new Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act – as it’s called – is named for the 14-year-old boy whose murder, 67 years ago, shocked the nation.

Emmett Till’s murder is now considered the spark that ignited a burgeoning Civil Rights movement. But few people know there was another brazen murder of a Black man that happened just three months later, in a neighboring town.

Top Photo: Beulah Melton, widow of Clinton Melton, talks with civil rights activist Medgar Evers. Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo

On December 3, 33-year-old Clinton Melton was working at a gas station in Glendora, Mississippi, when a white man drove up to the pump. The driver was Elmer Otis Kimball, who was best friends with one of the men who killed Emmett Till. Kimball flew into a rage and accused Melton of giving him more gas than he asked for. Kimball drove off and returned with a gun, shooting Melton once in the hand and once in the head. Clinton died, leaving behind a widow Beulah Melton, and four children.

Deloris Melton Gresham was five years old. She remembers getting the news her father had been killed. She was in bed when her mother came in crying, hugging each child and saying, “Your dad won’t be coming back home.”

Deloris Melton Gresham, holding photos of her parents.

Two witnesses — including the white owner of the service station — identified Kimball as the murderer. The trial was set for March 1956. But just days before, Beulah Melton was driving home when her car crashed into the Black Bayou River. Two of her kids were rescued from the back seat of the car, but Beulah died. Because of the suspicious timing, some people in town assumed she was forced off the road; others think she took a wrong turn or lost control. But nobody knows for sure.

The Clinton Melton trial moved forward. It was held at the same courthouse as the Emmett Till case, the same sheriff was in charge, and Kimball had the same defense attorneys as the Till killers. Despite evidence and eyewitness testimony, an all-white jury found Kimball not guilty.

Today, the stories of Clinton and Beulah Melton have been largely forgotten. But Clinton Melton’s name is one of many engraved on The Monument at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., honoring victims of lynching in the United States. It’s a stark reminder that for every Emmett Till whose name is remembered in history books, there are countless others whom most Americans have never even heard of.

Special thanks to Deloris Melton Gresham for sharing her story, and to Dorsey White, Keith Beauchamp, and Dave Tell. This story originally aired on NPR’s All Things Considered and appeared on the Code Switch Blog.

A full transcript of this episode is available here.

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