J. PHARAOH DOSS

In 1955 two White men were acquitted in Mississippi for the murder of Emmett Till, a Black teenager from Chicago accused of whistling at a White woman.  Appalled by the verdict television writer, Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, wrote a script for The United States Steel Hour called, Noon on Doomsday.

Serling’s script probed into the psyche of the “deep south” and indicted the small town as an accessory to murder.  Because of previous clashes with censorship Serling changed his script’s victim from a Black boy to a Jewish man, but Serling didn’t alter his opinion of the men acquitted.  The killer in Serling’s script was a, “neurotic malcontent who lashed out at something or someone who might be … the scapegoat for his own unhappy, purposeless, miserable existence.”

Serling discussed his script with a reporter.  The reporter said it sounded like the Till case and Serling replied, “If the shoe fits.” Then the news services started calling Serling’s upcoming script “The story of the Till case.”

The White Citizens’ Councils throughout the south reacted to the news and threatened to boycott the network and sponsor.  The network feared the threat and pulled Serling into their office.

Noon on Doomsday was gone over by thirty different people.  The victim in the script was changed to an unnamed foreigner because any suggestion of a minority was too close to the Till case.  The killer was not to be a psychopathic malcontent, but a good, decent, American boy momentarily gone wrong.  Every word of dialogue that might be “Southern” in context was deleted and at no point was the word “lynch” to be used.  No social event, institution, or way of life of “southern origin” could be indicated and they changed the setting from an undesignated location to a New England town.

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