Simeon Wright, the cousin of Emmett Till who witnessed his 1955 abduction, was laid to rest Saturday.
Over 300 people gathered at Monument of Faith Church to pay their respects to Wright, 74, who died of bone cancer Sept. 4. The youngest of eight children, he grew up in the South at the peak of Jim Crow.
The first years of Wright’s life were uneventful — he swam in creeks with his siblings and played ball with neighborhood children.
But that changed when his cousin was abducted and the 14-year-old’s killers were acquitted, prompting Wright and his family to move from Mississippi to Argo, Illinois.
Though the trauma stuck with him, those who spoke at Wright’s funeral said he was dedicated to helping all people.
Stanley Buford, who knew Wright for 10 years and wrote a book about him, said his friend was a man who “extolled the virtues of moving forward without having spite in your heart.”
“Nothing bothered him,” Buford said after speaking before mourners. “I’d call to encourage him when he was close [to dying], and he would end up encouraging me.”
Others called him an inspiration, describing Wright as the kind of man you’d want as a friend and someone who “became a father figure for all.”
Wheeler Parker Jr., pastor at Argo Temple Church of God in Christ, said Wright was a “no-nonsense man who would also give you the coat off his back.”
When he became a deacon — and later chairman of the deacon board at Argo Temple — there was a palpable change in Wright’s life, Parker said.
“He wanted to help everyone. From the smallest to the greatest — he wanted to help them all. He never had an attitude.”
A pipe fitter by trade, Wright wrote about how the kidnapping of his cousin as the two slept alongside each other affected him and his family.
Emmett, affectionately called “Bobo” by family, urged Wright not to tell his father what he had happened during his visit to Mississippi, Wright wrote in his 2010 book “Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till.”
“‘Please don’t tell your father I whistled at that lady,’ Bobo pleaded. It never occurred to me that Bobo would be killed for whistling at a white woman,” Wright wrote.
“We should have” told, Wright said in a 2010 interview near Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, where Emmett and his mother are buried. “We thought we were doing him a favor.”
Though some of the details surrounding the kidnapping and murder of Emmett remain murky, his death was a fuse that helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.
Keith Beauchamp, a documentary filmmaker who befriended Wright and made the 2005 film “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” remembered Wright as a man who always “aided our struggle to right the wrongs of yesterday.”
“We lost a great voice in the movement last week,” Beauchamp said. “He wasn’t just a person at the pulpit or walking the streets, demanding justice. This was my friend, my hero.”
Wright was involved in many efforts to uncover the truth surrounding his cousin’s abduction. His work with Beauchamp led to the identification of 14 people who were involved with Emmett’s kidnapping and murder.
The 2005 documentary also led to the Justice Department reopening the case.
Wright, along with other family members, fought to keep the spirit and memory of his cousin alive in the decades following his death.
Buford remembers talking with his friend earlier this year, when Carolyn Bryant (now known as Carolyn Donham) recanted her claims that the teen had made sexual advances toward her.
“I remember calling and asking him what he thought, and he said, ‘She had all of that time to say what happened after the incident,'” Buford said. “‘She sat with it all those years, what more can I say than that?'”
That call is one that sticks out in Buford’s memory – and one that characterizes his friend. He was a “man of few words when it came to issues of our day,” but when asked, he would “opine,” usually positively, about the situation.
“He was so helpful to so many,” Buford said. “He had a talent and a wherewithal that comes with a personality so soaked in history.”
Wright was being buried at Parkholm Cemetery in La Grange Park.