Emmett Till was a 14-year old African-American teenager whose story is one of the most tragic events to happen in modern American history.
He was born Emmett Louis Till in Chicago, Illinois on July 25, 1941. His parents were Louis Till and Mamie Carthan Till. While in the Army, his father was executed for rape and murder in Italy, although his family was not informed as to the specifics of his death. They also experienced difficulties due to Emmett’s bout with polio. Though he later recovered, the condition left him with a speech impediment.
Emmett’s mother’s roots were in Mississippi. In August of 1956, she decided to send her son to Money, Mississippi to stay briefly with relatives there. This was during a time when the South was segregated and there were strict codes of behavior expected of African-Americans by whites. Mamie Till explained to “Bobo,” as Emmett was nicknamed, about these matters and warned him to be cautious while down South.
Unfortunately, the boy failed to heed his mother’s advice.
Emmett Till accompanied a group of other teens on August 24, 1955 to a white-owned store in the small Mississippi town he was sent to. Reportedly, the other teens urged him to flirt with Carolyn Bryant, who co-owned the store with her husband Roy. Taking them up on their dare, Emmett offended the white woman by allegedly wolf-whistling at her. Although he left the store, Bryant told her husband that Till had used inappropriate language in her presence, asked her for a date and put his arm around her.
Furious, Roy Bryant, along with wife Carolyn and half-brother JW Milam , allegedly drove to the home where Emmett Till was staying. On August 28, 1955, he was kidnapped and driven off in a pickup truck. He was then brutally beaten and shot to death. His bloated corpse was later found in the Tallahatchie River by two fishermen. It was weighted down by a cotton gin fan. The 14-year-old’s body was in such horrid condition that it could only be identified by a ring his mother had gifted him with.
Mamie insisted in having an open-coffin funeral in a public setting, so that the world could see the savagery done by those who killed her son. Photographs of Emmett’s body had such an emotional impact that they helped fuel the intensity of the Civil Rights Movement in America.
He was buried in Alsip, Illinois at the Burr Oak Cemetery.
Although Roy Bryant and his half-brother were tried for the murder of Emmett Till, they were acquitted by an all white, all male jury, which caused much anger in the African-American community. Afterwards, they confessed to the crime during a shocking Look magazine interview, but were never penalized. Both men became social pariahs in their town following the murder trial and both were later felled by cancer.
Emmett Till’s mother Mamie continued to remind the world of his murder and the hatred behind it until she died at 81-years-old in 2003.