The Death Of Emmett Till

Get the truth about the shocking murder of Emmett Till and the sparks it ignited.

Emmett Till was a 14 year old Black boy from Chicago. In August of 1955 he found himself in Money, Mississippi, where he was visiting relatives. Before sending her son off on his holiday, Emmett's mother had warned the boy that he would likely encounter racism. She had urged her son, who was known to have a cheeky disposition, not to do anything that could antagonise the white Mississippi locals.

Emmett's new friends in Mississippi were intrigued by the boy from up north. He told them some exaggerated stories about life in Chicago. One day, while hanging around outside a grocery and meat market, Emmett showed the other boys a photograph of a white girl who he said was his girlfriend. The other boys found this hard to believe. They told Emmett that there was now a white woman in the store. They dared Emmett to go into the store and talk to the woman. Not wanting to lose face, he entered the store, bought some candy and, on the way out of the store, turned to the woman and said, "Bye baby." The die was cast.

Three days later the woman's husband, a man named Roy Bryant, turned up at the cabin of Emmett's cousin's grandfather, along with his brother-in-law. He told the old man that they were there for "˜ the boy who done the talking.' They announced that the "˜fat boy from Chicago' had violated Carolyn Bryant's honor and would have to pay. They dragged the boy into the back of their truck and drove to the Tallahatchie River. Arriving at the riverside they prepared to torture and murder Emmett Till.

First they made him carry a 75 pound cotton gin fan to the riverbank. They then ordered him to strip, beat him severely and then gouged out the child's eyes. Bryant then shot Emmett through the back of his head and again through the body. The boy's body was then wrapped in barbed wire and connected to the cotton gin fan, which was then thrown in the river.

The body was recovered by the Police on Wednesday, August 31. It was so badly beaten that Emmett could only be identified by a ring on his finger. The authorities were keen to have the body buried and forgotten. But this was not to be. Emmett's mother insisted that the body be returned to Chicago where she decided to have an open casket funeral. This would allow the whole world to see what white racists had done to her son.

Two weeks after the funeral, Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law J.W. Milam went on trial for the murder. The old man who had been approached by the two at his cabin, Moses Wright, bravely identified the two men who had kidnapped Emmett. Despite this, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty after an hour's deliberation, claiming that the State failed to prove the identity of the body.

The world reacted with disbelieve and then anger. Mississippi was condemned in the newspapers as being a city that condoned the murder of white children. The black people around The United States were especially incensed. The death of Emmett Till, senseless and horrible as it was, however, did serve a purpose. It became a rallying point and a wake up call for a generation of young Black southerners who, a decade later, would become the moving force behind the civil rights movement.

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