Exercise: Courtroom Dramas


*Most images on this post come from ghettyimages.com





“In order not to attract attention, McMahon used small spiral notebooks to do sketching in the courtroom and, as he recalled, most onlookers assumed he was a reporter simply doodling during the proceedings. He redrew these preliminary sketches on larger pads in the motel room and repeated this process one more time in Life’s offices in New York after the trial ended.”  –August 11, 2004|By Mike Conklin, Tribune staff reporter


“I am an artist and a reporter.” Franklin McMahon


Below are some basic sketches of different people who either testified or appeared in court. In his notes, which are only just a few reminders for him are names, descriptions and/or what they said or did in court.



Below is a sketch of Willy Reed.

Pencil sketch shows three illustrations of prosecution witness Willie Reed as he testifies during the trial of JW Milam and Roy Bryant in the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, Sumner, Mississippi, September 22, 1955. Milam and Bryant were accused of the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago who had allegedly flirted with Bryant’s wife, a white woman. Reed testified to having heard sounds of a beating in a shed and having seen Milam leave that shed. (ghetty images description)


I find his notes really helpful when viewing his sketches. They help me to see the choices he made when he eventually reworked them in New York using pen and ink. McMahon wrote a description of the person and also made note of which image he finds the most successful. You can see the final pen and ink drawing in the article.


What I find strange is that he changed the face quite a b it. He made the boy look much younger. Maybe this had to do with the innocence and bravery for his age that is reflected in the drawing. Mustache is gone and his eyebrows are have changed.


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After reading that he uses small spiral notepads to do initial sketches and notes then moves to larger sheets of paper that where he uses pen and ink you can understand the use of showing movement in his sketches. Above he shows the defense attorney demonstrating how Till had placed his hands on Carolyn Bryant. It says “jury not present, not admitted” not sure what that means but the rest of the notes describe her clothes, height and also a few little notes on where the ‘flirting’ took place. Which I assume the action that is being preformed took place at the general store.



Ink and wash illustration shows defense attorney Caleb Sidney Carlton (1915 – 1966) (left) and defense witness Carolyn Bryant during the trial of her husband, Roy Bryant, and JW Milam in the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, Sumner, Mississippi, September 22, 1955. Also pictured are circuit judge Curtis M Swango Jr (1908 – 1968) (right) and court reporter James T. O’Day (? – 1993). Bryant had accused Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago, of flirting with her, which led to his murder at the hands of her husband and Milam. Here, Carlton demonstrates the manner in which Bryant claimed Till placed his hands on her hips. – (written description from Ghetty images” 
The pen and ink drawing also shoes the judge and another person in court. I think this help to bring the whole picture together. It helps to give you sense of this man really demonstrating for the crowd what happened. You could be sitting there witnessing the performance yourself.

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Above are another pencil sketch turned into an ink and pen drawing for publication.
Above is the article at publication. A great collection of drawings to depict the sense of tension in the room. Especially the largest one that shows Emmet Tills uncle pointed at the accused murderers. His hands look like they are quivering. This is a brave act to stand up and point at the accused at this time in The United States.
I think Franklin McMahon managed to capture the tension, the emotions and also the divide of color in America at this time.



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