The murder of a fourteen-year-old Chicago boy named Emmett Till sparked the fire that was the Civil Rights Movement. Prejudice still exists in the world today; but because of his death, many people that have heard about or know of it, have changed the way that they think, the way they live their lives, and what their outlook is on other races.
Born in 1941 on the rough streets of Chicago, Illinois, Emmett Till had never experienced the extremes of racism or violence, his mother tried to keep him away from bad things. Mammie Till had told him stories and life experiences of racism. When Emmett decided to travel to Mississippi with his cousin, Wheeler, to visit his uncle Moses Wright in the summer of 1955, he thought that it was just going to be a regular trip and that he would stay the summer helping out Moses on his farm. While waiting at the train station to leave for Mississippi, Emmett’s mother Mammie gave him a stern warning about most people in the South, and that things were very different there than how they were in Chicago. Emmett’s father passed away years before, but he left behind a gold ring; Mammie gave this ring to Emmett just as he left, she was worried but thought that he would take care of himself while in the southern city of Money. After a sixteen-hour train ride, Emmett and his cousin arrived in Money.
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
Prices start at $12
Wheeler about his trip to Money with Emmett: We went to the South, near the beginning of cotton-picking time, late August and we picked cotton for half a day and we would go swimming, run the snakes out the river. We had a lot of fun.
Money was a little town made up of one street with small stores on either side, Emmett’s uncle Moses lived just outside of Money. On one side of Money was Bryant’s Grocery, a white-owned corner store managed by twenty-four-year-old Roy Bryant and his wife Carolyn that most black people that worked on the nearby plantations stopped by. After picking cotton all Wednesday, Emmett, his cousin, and other teens, got into the back of Moses’ truck; he drove them to Bryant’s Grocery to buy some refreshments.
Bryant was out of town and Carolyn was tending to the store, the boys would go in two or three at a time to buy things, then come back out and talk. Emmett went in and bought some bubble gum, witnesses say that on Emmett’s way out he turned back and whistled at Mrs. Bryant. She angrily left the counter. The boys thought that she was going to get a gun so they hopped on the truck and told the uncle to leave.
Emmett begged Moses to not tell his grandfather, and he didn’t. Everyone had forgotten about what had happened that day as the week went on.
That Sunday night, at 2:30 in the morning, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam drove to Moses Wright’s home on the outskirts of Money. Each with a pistol and flashlight, they kidnapped Emmett Till.
Willie Reed, a Money resident and witness to the beating: I could hear all this beatin’ and I could hear this beatin’ and I could hear this cryin’ and cryin’ and beatin’, and I’m saying to myself, “They beatin’ somebody up there.” I heard that beatin’ even, before I got to, even before I got to the barn. I passed, they still beatin’, they still beatin’. I hear it. Milam came out. So when he said, “Did you hear anything?” I saw him he had khaki pants on, had a green nylon shirt, and a .45 on his side. So I said, “Naw.” I said, “I didn’t hear anything,” I said, “anything.”
Oudie Brown, Money resident and another witness to the beating: I was coming through there that mornin’. Too-Tight was out there washing the truck out. Out washing J.W Milam’s truck out. I said, “What all that blood comes from?” He laughed. The boy laughed. That’s what he did. He said, “There’s a shoe here. There’s one of his shoes here.” I said “Who!?” That’s the way I said it. I say “Who?” “Emmett Till’s shoe.”
Mammie was told about the disappearance and notified Chicago newspapers, in Money, Emmett’s family told the sheriff and started searching for Emmett. Three days after Emmett was kidnapped, a boy fishing in the Tallahatchie river saw a body caught on a root, he told the sheriff. When recovered, Emmett’s body was weighed down by a 75-pound cotton gin fan that was tied around his neck with barbed wire. When Moses saw the body he could only identify it by the ring that Mammie had given Emmett before he left Chicago. Mammie was told that her son was dead.
Mammie Till when she saw Emmett’s body: And I decided then that I would start at his feet and work my way up, maybe gathering strength as I went. I paused at his midsection because I knew he would not want me looking at him. But I saw enough that I knew he was intact. I kept on up until I got to his chin and then I — I was forced to deal with his face. I saw that his tongue was choked out. I noticed that the right eye was lying on midway his cheek, I noticed that his nose had been broken like somebody took a meat chopper and chopped his nose in several places. As I kept looking, I saw a hole, which I presumed, was a bullet hole and I could look through that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered was it necessary to shoot him? Mr. Rayner (the mortician) asked me, he said “Do you want me to touch the body up?” I said, “No, Mr. Rayner, let the
people see what I’ve seen.” I was just willing to bear it all. I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till.
Emmett’s body was on display at a church in South Chicago, Mammie wanted everyone to see what had happened to him. 50,000 people in Chicago saw Emmett’s body, the black magazine “Jet” even had pictures for their readers to see; the whole nation knew about what had happened.
Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam admitted to kidnapping Emmett but said that they let him go afterwards. The trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam on the murder of Emmett Till had begun. Too-Tight (in the quote on page 2) who was washing the blood off of Roy Bryant’s truck, disappeared when the trial began. Black people in Money that knew about the murder, feared and kept quiet. Judge Curtis Swango called a number of men to the jury, all of them white, and all of them from Bryant and Milam’s home county. Sheriff Strider greeted the black reporters with, “Hello niggers.”
The trial was a mockery, both of the men were acquitted of the murder. Not long after their acquittal, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam sold their story of how they kidnapped and killed Emmett Till to “Look” magazine, and since they were acquitted, they couldn’t be tried for the murder again.
Exactly 100 days after the murder of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. This murder has impacted blacks in America greatly and the way that we are treated by others.
“The Lynching of Emmett Till.” nd. Heroism.org. February 4, 2003 <http://
“The Murder of Emmett Till.” nd. PBS. February 4, 2003 <http://www.pbs.org/
3, Dylan, Bob. “The Death of Emmett Till.” nd. Special Rider Music. February 4,
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