Emmett Louis Till
(July 25, 1941 â€“ August 28, 1955)
was an African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman. Till was from Chicago, Illinois, visiting his relatives in the Mississippi Delta region when he spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the married proprietor of a small grocery store. Several nights later, Bryant's husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam arrived at Till's great-uncle's house where they took Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later.
Emmett Till in a photograph taken by his mother on Christmas Day 1954, about eight months before his murder. Scholars state that when the photo ran in the Jackson Daily News Emmett Till and his mother were given "a profound pathos in the flattering photograph" and that the photograph "humanized the Tills".
Till was returned to Chicago and his mother, who had raised him mostly by herself, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing. Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket and images of his mutilated body were published in black magazines and newspapers, rallying popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S. Intense scrutiny was brought to bear on the condition of black civil rights in Mississippi, with newspapers around the country critical of the state. Although initially local newspapers and law enforcement officials decried the violence against Till and called for justice, they soon began responding to national criticism by defending Mississippians, which eventually transformed into support for the killers. The trial attracted a vast amount of press attention. Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till's kidnapping and murder, but months later, protected against double jeopardy, they admitted to killing him in a magazine interview. Till's murder is noted as a pivotal event motivating the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
Problems identifying Till affected the trial, partially leading to Bryant's and Milam's acquittals, and the case was officially reopened by the United States Department of Justice in 2004. As part of the investigation, the body was exhumed and autopsied resulting in a positive identification. He was reburied in a new casket, which is the standard practice in cases of body exhumation. His original casket was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. Events surrounding Emmett Till's life and death, according to historians, continue to resonate, and almost every story about Mississippi returns to Till, or the region in which he died, in "some spiritual, homing way".