Emmett Till’s Murder by White Supremacist (1955)

Emmett TIll

Emmett Till was a smart 14 years old American boy of African ancestry who was murdered in Mississippi after reportedly whistling to a white woman in 1955.

Emmett Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955), from Chicago, Illinois, visiting his relatives in the Mississippi Delta region when he spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the married proprietor of a small grocery store. Important documentary: “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” by Keith Beauchamp (2005)

Several nights later, Bryant’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam arrived at Emmett Till’s great-uncle’s house where they took Emmett Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later.

Emmett Till was returned to Chicago and his mother, who had raised him mostly by herself, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing. Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket and images of his mutilated body were published in black magazines and newspapers, rallying popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S.


Emmett Till

Emmett L. Till with his mother Mamie Till Mobley


Intense scrutiny was brought to bear on the condition of black civil rights in Mississippi, with newspapers around the country critical of the state. Although initially local newspapers and law enforcement officials decried the violence against Till and called for justice, they soon began responding to national criticism by defending Mississippians, which eventually transformed into support for the killers.

The trial attracted a vast amount of press attention. Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and murder, but months later, protected against double jeopardy, they admitted to killing him in a magazine interview. Till’s murder is noted as a pivotal event motivating the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Problems identifying the young boy affected the trial, partially leading to Bryant’s and Milam’s acquittals.

Reactions from newspapers in major international cities and Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and socialist publications were furious about the verdict and very critical of American society. Southern newspapers, particularly in Mississippi, wrote that the court system had done its job.

Although racially motivated murders had occurred throughout the South for decades, the circumstances surrounding Emmett Till grew beyond the details of a 14-year-old boy who had unknowingly defied a severe social caste system. Emmett Till’s murder brought considerations about segregation, law enforcement, relations between the North and South, the social status quo in Mississippi, the NAACP, White Citizens’ Councils, and the Cold War, all of which were played out in a drama staged in newspapers all over the U.S. and abroad.

The case was officially reopened by the United States Department of Justice in 2004. As part of the investigation, the body was exhumed and autopsied resulting in a positive identification. He was reburied in a new casket, which is the standard practice in cases of body exhumation.

“The Untold Story of EMMETT LOUIS TILL” by Keith Beauchamp (2005)

“Keith, you must continue to tell Emmett’s story until man’s consciousness is risen, only then there will be justice for Emmett Till!” ~ Mamie Till – Mobley (Speaking to Keith Beauchamp one week before she made her transition)

His original casket was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. Events surrounding Emmett Till’s life and death, according to historians, continue to resonate with people, and almost every story about Mississippi returns to Emmett Till, or the region in which he died.

SOURCE: Based on materials from Wikipedia, and documentary “The Untold Story of EMMETT LOUIS TILL” by Keith Beauchamp (2005)

I Love Ancestry is a global issue advocacy campaign that explores identity, diversity, heritage and culture, highlighting the experiences of marginalized people and Indigenous communities around the world.

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