This horrific story is one of the most recognized crimes in America’s racist history. I remember watching a Dave Chappelle special that he had a few years back when he made his comeback, and near the end, he brought up the true crime story that was a fuel that ignited the civil rights movements and that was the murder of Emmett Till.
The date is August 28th, 1955, and 14-year old Emmett Till an African American kid from Chicago is brutally murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman four days earlier. His assailant, the white woman’s husband and his brother forced Till to carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. Following that, the two men then proceeded to beat Till nearly to death, gouged out his eyes, shot him in the head, and then threw his body tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire into the river.
Who was Emmett Till?
Till grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Southside Chicago, and though he attended a segregated elementary school, he was ill – equipped for the level of segregation he would encounter in Mississippi. Till would receive warnings from his mother to be careful when embarking the deep south due to his race. Emmett was an upbeat kid and liked pulling pranks but a place like Mississippi back then had no tolerance for expressive nature. On August 24th, 1955, while standing with his cousins and some friends outside a county store in Money Mississippi. Till was acting braggadocious saying that his girlfriend back home was white. His friends, all young black boys, disbelieved him and dared Emmett to ask the white woman sitting behind the store for a date.
He went in, bought some candy, and on his way out was heard saying “Bye, baby” to the women. Interestingly enough there were no witnesses in the store, but Carol Bryant the woman behind the counter claimed that he grabbed her and made lewd advances towards her and topped it off with a wolf whistle at her as he walked out the store. It was his word against hers if her accusations were to ever go to court against Till, but things escalated quickly before any truth was ever to be discovered.
Roy Bryant, the owner of the store and the woman’s husband, returned from a business trip a few days later and was informed how Emmett had allegedly spoken to his wife. Irate, he went to the home of Till’s great uncle, Moses Wright, with half-brother J.W. Milam in the early morning hours of August 28th.
The pair demanded to see the boy. Despite pleas from Wright, they forced Emmett into their car. They drove around in the night and took their time torturing Till in a toolhouse behind Milam’s residence. Thereafter, they drove him down to the Tallahatchie River. It was three days later that Till’s corpse was recovered but he was so disfigured beyond recognition that only his great uncle Moses Wright could identify him by an initialed ring Till wore. Authorities wanted to bury the body quickly, but Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, requested it to be sent back to Chicago.
Open – Casket Funeral
After his mother saw the mutilated remains decided to have an open-casket funeral so that the world could see what the racist murderers did to her son. “Jet” an African American weekly magazine published a photo of Till’s corpse, and soon the mainstream media picked up the story. Furthermore, less than two weeks after Till’s body was buried Milam and Bryant went on trial in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. Other than Moses Wright, there were a few witnesses who could positively identify the defendants as Till’s killers.
On September 23rd, 1955, the all-white jury deliberated for less than an hour before issuing a verdict of “not guilty” explaining that the reason they came to that decision was that they believed the state had failed to prove the identity of the body. Subsequently, many people around the country were outraged by the decision and also by the state’s decision not to indict Milam and Bryant on the separate charge of kidnapping.
Carol Bryant’s Confession
The Emmett Till murder trial brought to light the brutality of Jim Crow segregation in the south and was the early catalyst of the civil rights movement. In 2017, Tim Tyson the author of the book “The Blood of Emmett Till revealed that Carol Bryant recanted her testimony admitting that Till never touched, threatened, or harassed her. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said.
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