Kayla Franklin as Mamie Till Bradley stands left in a teal dress and hat. The trial judge is visible in the background behind her.
Kayla Franklin as Mamie Till-Bradley in Trial in the Delta: The Murder of Emmett Till at Collaboraction Credit: Joel Maisonet

A murder trial transcript that went missing, not to be found until 2004—decades after the murder of Emmett Till. The Black Chicago teen whose unfathomable death in 1955 sparked the Civil Rights Movement didn’t get justice through a broken court system. Now, decades later, audiences can witness scenes from the murder trial of Till’s killers for themselves. This adaptation by G. Riley Mills and Willie Round was originally presented as a teleplay last February, in partnership with NBC5 and anchor Marion Brooks. That production won a Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award.

Trial in the Delta: The Murder of Emmett Till 
Through 2/19: Thu-Sat 7 PM, Sun 3 PM, DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, 740 E. 56th Pl., collaboraction.org, $30-$55

Collaboraction artistic director Anthony Moseley, in his preshow speech for the live stage version on opening night, said roughly 2,000 people will witness this world premiere production. Suddenly that number felt altogether too small. Every person who can see this show should see this show. 

Distracting jury projection transitions aside, Trial in the Delta is an infuriating, painstaking piece of theater. Witnesses walk from the audience into the courtroom in each scene, making their way through the room full of onlookers. Your eyes can’t help but drift stage left to witness Kayla Franklin’s Mamie Till-Bradley sitting solemnly throughout the testimonies. My companion noted that the work would be invaluable teaching material for students learning about Emmett Till. The transcript reveals so much of the hateful rhetoric that took place within the court that shines a much-needed light on how whitewashed history can become without firsthand source material. 

Given the nature of this work, the ensemble holds steadfast to their roles as real people plucked from history. Collaboraction, even in this very limited run, has given Chicago a gift. Emmett and his family never really got the justice they deserved, but work like this will ensure that history does not forget.