Facts About Emmett Till

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1. Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American boy who was brutally murdered in August, 1955. He allegedly flirted with a white woman in a grocery store, and was abducted and killed by her husband and his brother-in-law a few days later.

2. Emmett’s mother Mamie was born in the Deep South, but her family moved to Chicago because of the discrimination faced by African Americans. She held a distinguished school record, and married Louis Till, a soldier in the US Army. After they divorced, she married again, but the marriage failed. She got a job working with the US Air Force. She and Emmett were comfortably off, and she recalled that Emmett did most of the housework.

3. In the summer of 1955, her relative from Mississippi, Moses Wright was visiting, and was taking Emmett’s cousin back for a holiday. Emmett asked if he could go along too. Mamie remembered all too well how blacks were treated in Mississippi, and cautioned her son. Before he left, she gave him a signet ring belonging to his father.

4. In Money, Mississippi, the white population segregated themselves socially from the blacks. On August 24th, Emmett went into a store to buy bubble gum. The wife of the owner alleged that he propositioned her, and put his arm around her waist. On August 28th, her husband, Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law, J.W. Milam went to Wright’s house at about 2 a.m, and took Emmett away in their vehicle. When they did not return, Wright tried looking for him, but to no avail.

5. Three days later, Emmett’s body was found dumped in the river. It was badly mutilated and decomposed. Emmett’s uncle identified him by the ring his mother had given him. Emmett’s mother insisted that his body was sent back to Chicago, and when she saw how cruelly he had been killed, she decided to put him in an open casket. Thousands of people saw the body and were horrified.

6. Back in Mississippi, the local press condemned the incident and called for speedy justice. But when the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and the national press criticised the people of Mississippi, the locals closed ranks. The White Citizens Councils started circulating propaganda. The County Sheriff Strider did all he could to help the white defendants. He suggested that the body found in the river was that of an adult and that it had been in the river for more than three days.

7. The case was tried by an all white jury. Observers remarked that there was little doubt that Bryant and Milam abducted Emmett, since they had admitted as much earlier. Moses Wright also positively identified them. Other witnesses reported seeing the two men at Milam’s barn at the time, and testified to hearing screams from the barn. Despite this, the jury acquitted the two defendants, after deliberating for just over an hour. Six weeks later, a grand jury did not even indict the men on a kidnapping charge, and they were released. Protest rallies were held in many cities and editors from prominent newspapers condemned the miscarriage of justice. There were calls for federal laws to protect the blacks.

In Mississippi, the blacks had a worse time than before. Many of them moved away from the area. Bryant and Milam were interviewed by Look magazine for a fee, and protected by double jeopardy laws, they freely admitted their crime. Bryant’s store was boycotted by the blacks and it went out of business. Blacks also refused to work for Milam and Sheriff Strider.

9. The tragic death of Emmett Till and the outrageous trial of his killers influenced the Civil Rights movement that was soon to follow. Rosa Parks admitted that when she remembered the case, she knew she had to hold firm to her resolve. A number of political figures also commented on the tragedy, including Martin Luther King.

10. Emmett Till has been immortalised in song by Bob Dylan and Emmy Lou Harris. The Murder of Emmett Till and The Untold story of Emmett Till are well known films. Before she died in 2003, Mamie Till Bradley co- authored a book, Death of Innocence with Christopher Benson.

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