Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was a 14-year-old African-American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after a white woman said she was offended by him in her family's grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. Till posthumously became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.
Till was born and raised in Chicago and in August 1955, was visiting relatives near Money, in the Mississippi Delta region. He spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the white married proprietor of a small grocery store there. Although what happened at the store is a matter of dispute, Till was accused of flirting with or whistling at Bryant. Decades later, Bryant disclosed that, in 1955, she had fabricated testimony that Till made verbal or physical advances towards her in the store. Till's reported behavior, perhaps unwittingly, violated the strictures of conduct for an African American male interacting with a white woman in the Jim Crow-era South. Several nights after the store incident, Bryant's husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam went armed to Till's great-uncle's house and abducted the boy. They took him away and beat and mutilated him before shooting him in the head and sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River. Three days later, Till's body was discovered and retrieved from the river.
Till's body was returned to Chicago where his mother insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket. "The open-coffin funeral held by Mamie Till Bradley exposed the world to more than her son Emmett Till's bloated, mutilated body. Her decision focused attention not only on American racism and the barbarism of lynching but also on the limitations and vulnerabilities of American democracy". Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his open casket, and images of his mutilated body were published in black-oriented magazines and newspapers, rallying popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S. Intense scrutiny was brought to bear on the lack of black civil rights in Mississippi, with newspapers around America critical of the state. Although initially local newspapers and law enforcement officials decried the violence against Till and called for justice, they responded to national criticism by defending Mississippians, temporarily giving support to the killers.
In September 1955, Bryant and Milam were acquitted by an all-white jury of Till's kidnapping and murder. Protected against double jeopardy, the two men publicly admitted in a 1956 interview with Look magazine that they had killed Till. In 2004 the case was officially reopened by the United States Department of Justice. The defense team in the 1955 trial had questioned whether the body was that of Till. In 2004, Till's body was exhumed and positively identified. Till's original casket was then donated to the Smithsonian Institution and it is displayed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. After Milam and Bryant were acquitted, they initially remained in Mississippi, but were boycotted, threatened, attacked and humiliated by local residents. Milam died in 1980 at the age of 61, and Bryant died in 1994 at the age of 63. Bryant expressed no remorse for his crime and stated: "Emmett Till is dead. I don't know why he just can't stay dead."
The trial of Bryant and Milam received extensive press coverage. Till's murder was seen as a catalyst for the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement. In December 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott began in Alabama and lasted more than a year, gaining a US Supreme Court ruling that segregated buses were unconstitutional.
According to historians, events surrounding Emmett Till's life and death continue to resonate. Some writers have suggested that almost every story about Mississippi returns to Till, or the Delta region in which he died, in "some spiritual, homing way." An Emmett Till Memorial Commission was established in the early 21st century. The Sumner County Courthouse was restored and includes the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. The Emmett Till Memory Project is a website and smartphone app commemorating his life; fifty-one sites in the Mississippi Delta are associated with Till....LESS
I met Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems in D. C. at the National Ford Annual Conference in 1987. She was one of the plenary speakers, rendering a most eloquent and engaging slide presentation on her groundbreaking thesis of Till as catalyst of the civil rights movement. It was astounding; I remember it as though it were yesterday. Clenora s work resonates with me to this day. At that moment, she resurrected and established Till as the beginning of the Movement. Later, shortly before completing the Ph.D. in May 1988, she began communicating with Emmett s mother, Mamie Till Mobley and encouraging her to seek justice for her son s brutal murder. Thus anyone who lays claim to exhuming the Till saga before Dr. Hudson-Weems demands to be questioned. - Dr. William Turner, Vice Pres; Assoc. Provost, U. of KY It is the responsibility of all writers to cite the research and writings of those who come before them. In a world where credit is often given to mediocrity, we can ill afford to ignore the work of the scholars who pave the way for us to craft story. Hudson-Weems Till writings are clearly the first full length studies to establish the lynching of this martyr as the true catalyst for the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Hence, anyone writing after her on this subject has the responsibility to not only know the source but to cite her work as well. To not do this or to claim ignorance of her work is an obvious sign of fraud, inferior research, or arrogance. - Evelyn Coleman, Award-Winning Author of What a Woman s Gotta Do For nearly 20 years, Hudson-Weems was the lone voice calling for a fresh assessment of the true historical significance of the murder of Emmett Till. That voice has lately been joined by a host of others, but there is disharmony in the choir. The de facto failure to credit, let alone acknowledge, both her pioneering work and her rightful place as the preeminent Till scholar is more than intellectual theft; it is personal grand larceny. The truth needs to get out that the real authority about Emmett s story is Clenora. When someone s dedicated his or her life, and mined the subject as much as Clenora has, her name needs to be connected with what she s done. Further, my own effort to assist Clenora in realizing her dream of producing a motion picture based on her research and vision of racial healing through redemption has also been compromised by this sudden rash of Till experts. Modern day pirates beware; legions stand between you and your greed. With the support of her many friends, colleagues, and true believers, Dr. Hudson-Weems unique voice will not be lost in the present cacophony, nor will her impersonators go unchallenged. - Barry Morrow, Oscar Award-Winning Co-Writer for Rain Man; Producer"
Till's murder was one of several reasons the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed; it allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in local law enforcement issues when civil rights were being compromised. from Emmett Till
The Civil Rights Act of 1957, Pub.L. 85–315, 71 Stat. 634, enacted September 9, 1957, primarily a voting rights bill, was the first federal civil rights legislation passed by the United States Congress since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was to show the federal government's support for racial equality following the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision. Opposition to the legislation, including the longest one-person filibuster in history, resulted in limited immediate impact, but the Act paved the way for a series of more effective civil rights bills in the 1960s.