Emmett Till

From Academic Kids

Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till (July 25, 1941August 28, 1955) was an African-American youth native to Chicago, Illinois whose brutal lynching in Mississippi was one of the key events leading up to the American Civil Rights Movement. None of the suspects were ever convicted, but a federal investigation into his murder was initiated in 2004.



Emmett Till was the son of Mamie Carthan and Louis Till. Mamie largely raised him on her own; she and Louis had separated in 1942. His father was drafted into the United States Army in 1943 during World War II, and was executed by the U.S. Army for raping two Italian women and murdering a third.

In 1955, when Till was 14 years old, he was sent for a summer stay with his great uncle, Moses Wright, who lived in Money, Mississippi (a small town near Greenwood). Till arrived on August 21; on the 24th, Till joined other teenagers as they went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to get some refreshments. They were children of sharecroppers and had been picking cotton all day. The market was owned by Roy Bryant and Carolyn Bryant, who mostly catered to this sharecropper population. While in the store, Emmett reportedly whistled at Carolyn or openly flirted with her, an action that supposedly angered her husband.


At about 2:30 AM on August 28, a Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Till from his uncle's house. They brutally beat him, gouged out an eye, then shot him with a .45 caliber pistol before tying a heavy fan to his neck with barbed wire to weigh down his body, which was dropped into the Tallahatchie River.

Though others were clearly involved, the brothers were soon under suspicion for the boy's disappearance and were arrested August 29. The body was recovered August 31.

Mamie brought Till's body back to Chicago. The funeral home offered to clean up the body for viewing, but Mamie declined, choosing to leave his coffin open. She wanted people to see how badly Till's body had been disfigured. News photographs of Till's mutilated corpse circulated around the country, notably appearing in Jet, drawing intense public reaction. Some reports indicate up to 50,000 people viewed the body.

Till was buried September 6 in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. The same day, Bryant and Milam were indicted in Mississippi by a grand jury. An investigation involving unprecedented cooperation between local law enforcement, the NAACP, and local reporters was cut short. On September 19, the trial began; on September 23 the jury, made up of 12 white males, acquitted both defendants. Deliberations took just 67 minutes; one juror said they took a "soda break" to stretch the time to over an hour. The hasty acquittal outraged people throughout the United States and Europe, and energized the nascent civil rights movement.

In a 1956 article in Look magazine, J.W. Milam admitted that he and his brother had killed Till. Milam claimed that initially, their intention was to scare Till into line by pistol-whipping him and threatening to throw him off of a cliff. Milam claimed that regardless of what they did to him, he never showed any fear of them, never seemed to believe they would really kill him, and maintained a completely unrepentant, insolent and defiant attitude toward them concerning his actions. Thus, they felt they were left with no choice but to fully make an example of him. A year later, the magazine returned to the story, indicating that Milam and Bryant had been shunned by the community, and that their stores were then closed due to lack of business.

Milam died of cancer in 1980, and Bryant died of cancer in 1990. Mamie (as Mamie Till Mobley) outlived them, dying at age 81 on January 6, 2003.

Federal investigation

Beginning in 1996 filmmaker Keith Beauchamp investigated the death of Emmett Till as background research for a feature film he planned to make. Doing interviews for the film he begun to find eyewitnesses who had never spoken out publicly before. He decided to make a documentary telling the story instead and spent nearly the next decade making The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. The film's research indicated that as many as 15 people may have been involved in the killing and led to calls by the NAACP and others for the case to be reopened.

On May 10, 2004, the United States Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the case to see if anyone else was involved in the murder besides Milam and Bryant. Although the federal statute of limitations from 1955 has expired, the charges can appear in the state court. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and officials in Mississippi would also be involved in the investigation. On May 31, 2005 Till's body was exhumed from the suburban Chicago cemetery where he was buried. The Cook County medical examiner's office conducted an autopsy on the body, which was then reburied by relatives on June 4. No autopsy was performed at the time of his death.

Popular culture

The murder of Emmett Till was felt deeply by African-Americans and civil rights activists. Artistic works drawing on the incident include the first play by eventual Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, a poem by Langston Hughes, and a song by Bob Dylan. [1] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1499919,00.html) The James Baldwin play "Blues for Mister Charlie" is loosely based on the Emmett Till case.

See also


External links

eo:Emmett TILL


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