Emmett Till James Baldwin Marcus Garvey Frederick Douglas Fanny Lou Hammer

Emmett Till
Books and Resources


 The Blood of Emmett Till  My Nephew Emmett  Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement (Race, Rhetoric, and Media Series)
 Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case  A Wreath for Emmett Till  Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America
 Emmett Till: Sometimes Good Can Come Out Of A Bad Situation (Volume 1)  Mississippi Trial, 1955  Simeon's Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till
 The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till  The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative (The American South)  Emmett Till's Secret Witness: FBI Confidential Source Speaks
 American Experience - The Murder of Emmett Till  Emmett Till: The Sacrificial Lamb of the Civil Rights Movement  Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin


When was Emmett Till born?

July 25, 1941

Emmett Louis “Bobo” Till was born in Chicago Cook County Hospital to Louis and  Mamie Till



The Lynching of Emmett Till


When Was Emmett Till Born?


What is significant about the ring found on Emmett Till's body?


When did Emmett Till leave for Money, Mississippi?


What happen at the store with Emmett Till?


When was Emmett Till kidnapped?


What happen to Emmett Till the night he was kidnapped?

The Murder of Emmett Till

"Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son -- lynched?"
-- Mamie Till Mobley, mother of Emmett Till

In Memory of Mamie Till Mobley November 23, 1921 to Jan 6, 2003

Thank you for pushing forth in the struggle of our people.  Because of you we will never forget.

Emmett Till knew segregation. McCosh Elementary was a public school with black students only. When Mamie Bradley, (now the late Mamie Till Mobley) Emmett’s mother, made plans to send him south for the summer on the Illinois Central, she knew he would have to ride in the train’s colored section. But the segregation, discrimination and racism Emmett knew in the North was nothing like the segregation, discrimination and racism he rode into in Mississippi. His only warning came from his mother, a Mississippi native who had left for Chicago with her family when she was two years old. She told her boy not to fool with white people down south. "If you have to get on your knees and bow when a white person goes past, do it willingly."

His cousin, Curtis Jones, recalled that Emmett liked to pull pranks. One Wednesday evening in August, 1955, Emmett and Curtis drove Mose Wright’s ’41 Ford to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, a country store with a big metal Coca-Cola sign outside.

There the boys met up with some other black children, and Curtis Jones began a game of checkers with a seventy-year-old black man sitting by the side of the building. Outside the store, Emmett was showing off a picture of a white girl who was a friend of his in Chicago. Till bragged to the titillated boys that this white girl was his girl, and Jones recalls that one of the southern boys said, "Hey, there’s a white girl in that store there. I bet you won’t go in there and talk to her." So he went in there to get some candy. When he was leaving the store, he told her, "Bye, Baby." And that’s when the old man that was playing checkers started telling us that she would go to her car, get a pistol, and blow Emmett’s brains out."

The boys jumped in their car as Carolyn Bryant came out the swinging screen doors. They sped out of the little town.

By the next day the incident had become just a good story to the two northern boys. But the tale went beyond those in the car. One girl who had heard it through the grapevine warned, "When that lady’s husband come back there is going to be trouble. "Roy Bryant was out of town at the time, trucking shrimp from Louisiana to Texas.

The boys kept the encounter a secret from Mose Wright, hoping it would blow over. Three days passed, and the boys forgot about Emmett’s "Bye, Baby" to the pretty white woman. But after midnight on Saturday, a car pulled off the gravel road and headed through the cotton field to Mose Wright’s unpainted cabin. Roy Bryant was back from his trucking job. He and his brother-in-law J. W. Milam had come to Mose Wright’s cabin to get that "boy who done the talkin’," Mose Wright told the men that the bow was from "up nawth" and didn’t know a thing about how to act with white folks down south. He told them that the bow was only fourteen that this was only his second visit to Mississippi. Why not give the boy a good whipping and leave it at that? As the men dragged Emmett outside, one of them asked Mose Wright, "How old are you, preacher?" "Sixty-four."

"If you cause any trouble, you’ll never live to be sixty-five," said the man. They pushed Emmett into the back seat of the car and drove away.

Precisely what happened next is unknown. Two months after the trial, however, William Bradford Huie, a white Alabama journalist, paid Milam and Bryant $4,000 to tell their story. The two Mississippians attempted to justify the murder by claiming that they didn’t intend to kill Till when they picked him up at Mose Wright’s house, that they had only wanted to scare him. But when the young boy refused to repent or beg for mercy, they said, they had to kill him.

"What else could we do?" Milam told Huie. "He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers in their place. I know how to work ‘em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice."

Milam drove Emmett to the Tallahatchie River, Huie wrote, and made the boy carry a seventy-five-pound cotton-gin fan from the back of the truck to the river bank before ordering him to strip. Milam then shot the boy in the head.

The Milam and Bryant account of the incident left several questions unanswered. One witness, for example, reported seeing Till and the two accused with a group of other men, both black and white, before the murder. Who were they? How and why would Milam and Bryant coerce blacks into helping them? Why would they need other whites along if they had only wanted to intimidate the boy? And, would a tongue-tied fourteen-year-old boy really make baiting comments, as Milam and Bryant allege, to the men who were viciously beating him?

What we do know is that Mose Wright heeded the kidnappers’ order. He did not call the police. But the next morning, Curtis Jones went to the plantation owner’s house and asked to use the phone. He told the sheriff Emmett Till was gone.

Till’s body was found three days late. The barbed wire holding the cotton-gin fan around his neck had become snagged on a tangled river root. There was a bullet in the boy’s skull, one eye was gouged out, and his forehead was crushed on one side.

Milam and Bryant hade been charged with kidnapping before the gruesome corpse was discovered. They were now charged with murder. The speed of the indictment surprised many. But white Mississippi officials and newspapers said that all "decent" people were outraged at what had happened and that justice would be done. Milam and Bryant could not find a local white lawyer to take their case. The Mississippi establishment seemed to be turning its back on them.

Meanwhile, the tortured, distended body pulled from the river became the focus of attention. It was so badly mangled that Moses Wright could identify the boy only by an initialed ring. The sheriff wanted to bury the decomposing body quickly. But Curtis Jones called Chicago, passing word to Till’s mother first of Emmett’s death and then of the imminent burial. She demanded that the corpse be sent back to Chicago. The sheriff’s office reluctantly agreed, but had the mortician sign an order that the casket was not to be opened.

As soon as the casket arrived in Chicago, however, Mrs. Bradley did open it. She had to be sure, she said, that it was really her son, that he was not still alive and hiding in Mississippi. She studied the hairline, the teeth, and in vengeance declared that the world must see what had been done to her only child. There would be an open-casket funeral.

The thirty-three-year-old mother collapsed to the concrete train platform crying, "Lord, take my soul." She had to be taken from the station in a wheelchair.

"Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son – lynched?" Mamie Bradley (Mamie Till Mobley) asked reporters afterwards.

Emmett Till’s horribly battered, water-logged corpse would shock and disgust the city of Chicago, and after a picture of it was published in the black weekly magazine, Jet, all of Black America saw the mutilated corpse.

On the first day that the casket was open for viewing, thousands and thousands of people lined the streets outside the Rainer Funeral Home. The funeral was held on Saturday September 3, 1955, two thousand (2000) people gathered outside the church on State Street. Mamie Bradley (Mamie Till Mobley) delayed burial for four days to let "the world see what they did to my boy."

It is difficult to measure just how profound an effected the public viewing of Till’s body created. But without question it moved black America in a way the Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation could not match. Contributions to the NAACP’s "Fight Fund," the war chest to help victims of racial attacks, reached record levels. Only weeks before, the NAACP had been begging for support to pay its debts in the aftermath of its Supreme court triumph.

The Cleveland Call and Post, a Black newspaper, polled the nation’s major Black radio preachers and found five of every six preaching on the Till case. Half of them were demanding that "something be done in Mississippi now," according to the paper.

White Mississippians responded differently as the case became a national cause. As northerners denounced the barbarity of segregation in Mississippi, the state’s white press angrily objected to the NAACP’s labeling of the killing as a lynching. Jackson Clarion Ledger writer Tom Ethridge called the condemnation of Mississippi a "Communist plot" to destroy southern society. Civil rights activists were frequently accused of being Communists of Communist sympathizers.

Public opinion in Mississippi galvanized in reaction to the North’s scorn. Five prominent Delta attorneys now agreed to represent Milam and Bryant. A defense fund raised $10,000. Signs of support suddenly appeared from the same local officials who had at first put distance between themselves and the men charged with the boy’s brutal murder. The sheriff, declaring that the body was too badly decomposed to be positively identified as Till’s did no investigative work to help the prosecution prepare its case. A special prosecutor had to be appointed by the state, but he was given no budget or personnel with which to conduct a probe.

On September 19, 1955 less than two weeks after Emmett Till was buried in Chicago, Milam and Bryant went on trial in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. The press, particularly the black press, was in the courtroom. Reporters from desegregation, this could make a good story—a telling example of how the South was reacting to the changing status of Black people.

No one knew if any Black witnesses would dare testify against the white men. Curtis Jones, who in later years became a Chicago Policeman, recalls that his mother forbade him to return to Mississippi to testify at the trial of his cousin’s accused murderers. "My mother was afraid something would happen to me like something happened to Emmett Till."

Without a witness, there would be no case. But in 1955, for a black man to accuse a white man of murder in Mississippi was to sign his own death warrant. Violence had long been used in the South as a means of intimidating Black People into passivity, but this murder was particularly brutal and all the more threatening. White Mississippi, angry at the northern press’ interest in the case, was closing ranks. The word spread throughout the Black community: Keep your mouth shut.

Mose Wright had not slept at his home since the kidnapping. He feared the men might return. His wife, Elizabeth Wright, never went back to the cabin after that night. "Tll Simmie (her son) to get any corset and one or two slips or a dress or two and bring them to me," she wrote in a note to her husband from her hiding place. After the indictment, Wright received anonymous warnings to leave the state before the trial began. He was told to take his family and "get out of town before they all get killed.

But Wright didn’t leave the state. Although he had been intimidated by the kidnappers the night they took Emmett, he was now going to be a witness for the prosecution. A Black man was going to testify.

Just before the trial began, Black reporters had gotten word that Wright would be a witness. Twenty years earlier, in another Mississippi courthouse, when a Black boy accused of raping a white woman got up to testify, a white man in the courtroom pulled out a revolver and started shooting. Anticipating the fury that Mose Wright’s testimony would prompt, the Black reporters made plans for the moment, just in case the whites in the courtroom turned on the few Blacks. James Hicks, a reporter covering the trial for the Amsterdam News, described their plan this way. "We had worked it out where I was going to get the gun (from a bailiff) seated in front of the Black reporters, somebody else was going to take this girl (Cloyte Murdock Larsson, a reporter for Jet) to the window, she was going to go out the window two floors down…. Then we were just going to grab the chairs ….. and fight our way out – if we could."

"Dar he"

A packed courtroom watched intently as sixty-four-year-old Mose Wright took the witness stand. The prosecuting attorney asked him to identify the men who had come to his home and taken young Till away with them. Before a white judge, an all-white jury, and armed white guards, Mose Wright pointed to J.W. Milam. "Dar he" said Wright, identifying Milam as one of the men. He then pointed to the other defendant, Roy Bryant, as the second man.

"It was the first time in the history of Mississippi that a Negro had stood in court and pointed his finger at a white man as a killer of a Negro," said Michigan congressman Charles Diggs, who attended the trial. Actually, Wright’s testimony was not literally the first such instance, but it was indeed a rare and courageous act for that time and place.

Afterwards, recalling that moment, Wright said he could "feel the blood boil in hundreds of white people as they sat glaring in the courtroom. It was the first time in my life I had the courage to accuse a white man of a crime, let alone something terrible as killing a boy. I wasn’t exactly brave and I wasn’t scared. I just wanted to see justice done."

After Mose Wright testified, other blacks came forward. Willie Reed, the son of a sharecropper, told the court that around six o’clock that morning he was on his way to buy meat for breakfast when he saw Emmett sitting in the back of a passing pickup truck. Two other blacks and four white men were also in the truck, but Reed recognized only Till and J.W. Milam. The truck drove to a shed on the plantation, and Reed said he then heard cries coming from inside. He ran to the home of his aunt, Amanda Bradley. The cries became wails and pained grunts, and then a chant of "Mama, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy."

Who are they beating to death down at the barn, Aunt Mandy? Reed asked Mrs. Bradley. Then he saw Milam, with a gun in his holster, come out of the shed to get water from the well. Three other white men came out and joined him. Eventually, the truck was backed up to the shed, Reed said, and three black men helped the others roll something wrapped in a tarpaulin into the back of the pickup. Later he saw the blacks washing out the back of the truck, the blood-red water soaking into the Mississippi soil.

Amanda Bradley testified to hearing the sound of a beating coming from the shed.

Emmett’s mother identified the body pulled from the Tallahatchie River as her son.

After they testified, the witnesses were hurried out of town by sympathetic observers. Congressman Diggs took Willie Reed; other blacks escorted the Bradleys. Mississippi’s NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers, and reporter James Hicks worked together to get Mose Wright out of the state shortly after he testified.

The two defendants never took the stand. The defense consisted of half a dozen character witnesses. At the end of the five-day trial, John C. Whitten, one of the five defense attorneys, made his simple pitch to the all-white, all-male jurors. "Your fathers will turn over in their graves if Milam and Bryant are found guilty and I’m sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men in the face of that outside pressure."

The prosecutor, District Attorney Gerald Chatham, countered that the killing was a "cowardly act—it was a brutal, unnecessary killing of a human being.’

The jury deliberated a little more than an hour. It was September 23, 1955, the 166th anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights. When the jurors returned to the court at 5:43pm, Judge Curtis Swango asked for the verdict.

"Not guilty," sad J.W. Shaw, the jury foreman. Later, Shaw would assert, "I feel the state failed to prove the identity of the body."

Reaction was swift. Blacks staged major rallies in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Youngstown, and Los Angeles. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP told a crowd in Harlem, "Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children. The killer of the boy felt free to lynch because there is in the entire state no restraining influence of decency, not in the state capital, among the daily newspapers, the clergy, not among any segment of the so-called lettered citizens."

Dr. Archibald J. Carey, a former delegate to the United Nations, said the "shattering damage done to our nation’s prestige in world affairs by the Mississippi jury rates each of them as America’s public enemy number one."

Around the country, major white dailies editorialized bitterly against the verdict. Some compared events in Mississippi to the Holocaust of Nazi Germany; one writer called Till America’s Anne Frank. The uproar was fueled further when a grand jury refused to indict Milam and Bryant on separate charges of kidnapping.

Through the extensive press coverage, all America saw the injustice that had taken place. But Black Americans, particularly in the South, saw something else as well—something that in retrospect is easily overlooked. They saw Black people stand in a court of law and testify against white people.



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