Our first topic of discussion for the American History Challenge is the murder of Emmett Till. His was not the first nor was it the last lynching, but he was one of the youngest victims at just 14 years old.
Born July 25, 1941 in Chicago, IL to Mamie Carthan Till-Mobley and Louis Till. He died on August 28, 1955 while visiting family in Money, Mississippi.
Emmett grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago and had attended a segregated elementary school. However, the level of segregation in Mississippi would be nothing like he encountered at home. His mother warned him to be careful because of his race. He loved pulling pranks.
He arrived in Money, Mississippi on August 21. He stayed with his great-uncle, Moses Wright. He spent his days helping with the cotton harvest.
On August 24, Emmett, his cousins, and some friends were outside a grocery store in Money. Emmett bragged that he had a white girlfriend back home. The others, not believing his claims, dared him to ask the white woman sitting behind the store counter for a date.
He went inside, bought some candy, and on the way out was heard saying, “Bye, baby” to the woman. There are other accounts that he may have flirted with her or touched the hand or waist of the woman. The woman alleged that he grabbed her, made lewd advances and wolf-whistled at her as he sauntered out. Whatever events had transpired, he hadn’t told his uncle about the encounter.
The 21-year-old white woman was Carolyn Bryant. She told her husband, Roy Bryant, about the alleged incident. Several nights later, in the early morning hours of August 28th, Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam, went to Moses Wright’s house, forced their way in and abducted Emmett Till at gunpoint.
Bryant and Milam made Emmett carry a cotton gin fan down to the Tallahatchie River. They then proceeded to beat him close to death, gouge out one of his eyes, and put a single gunshot to the head. The two men tied the teen’s body to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire and dumped his corpse into the river.
Emmett’s uncle reported the kidnapping to the police and Bryant and Milam were arrested the following day. On August 31, 1955, Emmett’s corpse was discovered in the river. His face was so unrecognizable that positive identification was only able to be made because he was wearing a monogrammed ring that belonged to his father.
His body was sent back to Chicago via train. It arrived on September 2, less than two weeks after he had embarked on his journey south. Emmett’s mother kept his casket open so the world could see the brutality behind the lynching of a teenage boy.
The trial for Bryant and Milam began on September 19, 1955. They were identified by Emmett’s uncle on the stand. After four days of testimony and a little more than an hour of deliberation, the all-white, all-male jury acquitted Bryant and Milam of all charges, explaining the state had failed to prove the identity of the body. Many people around the country were outraged by the decision.
In 2017, Tim Tyson, author of the book The Blood of Emmett Till, revealed that Carolyn Bryant recanted her testimony, admitting that what she had alleged was a lie. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said.
Emmett Till’s death became a rallying point for civil rights activists across the country. Don’t think this was a long time ago. My grandma was born three years later and she’s still with us today. Emmett Till should still be with us today.
Topics to Come…
Black Wall Street
If you have other topics you want me to research, please feel free to comment below or contact me. What has happened in your state or hometown that should be remembered in history? I want to know.