Emmett Till, 1955

The murder of a 14-year old black boy Emmett Till  in Money, Mississippi in August 1955 sparked the Civil Rights movement, but the crime won’t sound clarion calls for a nation to wake up to if not for the above photo.

Till, while visiting Mississippi from Chicago, was accusing of whistling at a married white woman and incurred the wrath of local white residents. Details were evidently murky: Allegedly Till touched Carolyn Bryant’s hand as the shopkeeper served him and made remarks, including “Bye, Baby!” as his friends quickly pulled him out. Then he whistled at her. Others claimed he asked Bryant out on a date. Some said he suggested to her that he had already been with white girls, showing her a photo of his white girlfriends. Others insist that the photo was that of Hedy Lamarr which came with the wallet.

In 2008, in an interview with Tim Tyson for The Blood of Emmett Till, Bryant admitted that the sexual threats were false, but soon denied ever saying that to Tyson. In her 2022 memoir, released a year before her death, Bryant insisted that he gripped on her hand and her hips tightly. All the Rashomon-like quality what happened that August decades ago was captured in Devery S. Anderson’s Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement, a book I recommend)

In the middle of the night, the door to his grandfather’s house was thrown open, and Emmett was taken by the mob of at least six white men, forced into a truck and driven away, never again to be seen alive. He was taken to Milam’s tool house, beaten and pistol-whipped, then shot through the head, with his body dumped in the Tallahatchie river with a 75lb cotton-gin fan fastened with barbed wire round his neck.  The body was found swollen and disfigured in the river three days after his abduction and only identified by his ring.

It was sent back to Chicago, where his mother insisted on leaving the casket open for the funeral and on having people take photographs because she wanted people to see how badly Till’s body had been disfigured—she has famously been quoted as saying, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” Up to 50,000 people viewed the body. The gruesome photographs of his mutilated corpse were circulated around the country and notably it appeared in Jet magazine (below) which targeted African American demographic. The photo by David Jackson, with a stoic Mamie gazing at her murdered child’s ravaged body, drew intense public reaction. 

On the day Till was buried, two men — the husband of the woman who had been whistled at and his half brother — were indicted of his murder, but the 12-member all-white male jury (some of whom actually participated in Till’s torture and execution) took only an hour to return ‘not guilty’ verdict. The verdict would have been quicker, remarked the grinning foreman, if the jury hadn’t taken a break for a soft drink on the way to the deliberation room. To add insult to injury, knowing that they would not be retrial, the two accused men sold their stories to LOOK magazine and happily admitted to everything.(They were ostracised for it, and their businesses, including the store, went bankrupt.)

Elsewhere in Mississippi too, things weren’t going terribly well for the black people. Just before Till was murdered, two activists Rev. George Lee and Lamar Smith were shot dead for trying to exercise their rights to vote, and in a shocking testimony to lack of law and order, no one came forward to testify although both murders were committed in broad daylight. The next year, Clyde Kennard, a former army sergeant, tried to enrolled at Mississippi South College in Hatiesburg in 1956. He was sent away, but came back to ask again. For this ‘audacity’, university officials — not students, or mere citizens, but university officials —  planted stolen liquor and a bag of stolen chicken feed in his car and had him arrested. Kennard died halfway into his seven year sentence.

But times were slowly changing: Brown vs. Board of Education was decided in 1954, and three months after the Till murder took place, Rosa Parks would refuse to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Sit-ins and marches would follow, and soon the civil rights movement itself would be in fullswing.

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2,451 thoughts on “Emmett Till, 1955

  1. Super artykuł! Skup nieruchomości to świetne rozwiązanie dla osób poszukujących szybkiego i bezpiecznego sposobu sprzedaży swojego domu. Dzięki profesjonalnej obsłudze i sprawdzonej metodzie, można mieć pewność, że transakcja przebiegnie sprawnie ma rację

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