Emmett Till: In memory of him 67 years after his murder

Emmett see you

The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 is credited with being one of the catalysts for the civil rights movement (Image: Getty)

67 years ago, the horrific murder of Emmett Till sent shock waves across America.

Emmett, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, was kidnapped, tortured, and shot in the head on August 28, 1955 after a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, claimed that he whistled at her at a Mississippi store.

The two killers were Roy, Carolyn’s husband, and Roy’s half-brother, JW Milam.

Emmett was accused of breaking the unwritten code of conduct for a black man who interacted with a white woman in the Jim Crow-era South.

His body was found three days after he disappeared – mutilated and bloated in the Tallahatchie River.

The brutality of his murder and the decision to have an open coffin at his funeral posthumously made Emmett a focal point of the civil rights movement.

His killers were acquitted and never brought to justice under the American legal system while Carolyn lived a free life in North Carolina.

However, the discovery of an intact 1955 warrant for Carolyn in a basement in Greenwood, Mississippi has prompted Emmett’s family to call for her arrest all these years later.

Mamie Bradley at her son's funeral

Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, attends her son’s funeral on September 6, 1955 (Image: Bettmann Archives via Getty Images)

Mamie Bradley talks to the police and her father

Mamie Bradley talks to her father and a police officer in 1955 (Photo: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

jw milam and his wife

Co-defendant JW Milam quietly smokes a cigar while seated next to his wife (Image: Bettmann Archives)

Professor Davis Houck, who founded the Emmett Till Archives, told Metro.co.uk that “in many ways 2022 is the year of Till”.

“It’s been 67 years since his assassination, we have the release of the film about his life and of course the discovery of this warrant from 1955,” said Professor Houck of Florida State University.

“While the discovery of the warrant could potentially help the prosecution against Carolyn Bryant Donham, no new factual evidence has been brought to light from its discovery.

“The question remains whether any of Till’s living relatives will get the justice they deserve.”

davis huck

Professor Davis Houck is one of America’s leading scientists on Emmett Till (Image: Davis Houck)

This story of injustice shaped the lives of Till’s relatives after his murder.

Although the white Mississippi press lobbied for Till’s cause, in September 1955 an all-white jury found Bryant and Milam not guilty of murder.

The two men later revealed in a 1956 interview with Life magazine that they had murdered and tortured the boy, and sold the story for $4,000.

It has prompted black Americans to take action against racial injustice across the country and beyond.

The African American community gathers for a box office protest

The black community gathered at Sharp St Church after the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 (Image: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

Emmett down to his bed

Emmett Till lying on his bed at the age of 14 (Image: Bettmann archives)

Professor Houck believes that Emmett’s murder also sparked various strands of protest – particularly among the youth of the time.

He said: “There is no doubt that Emmett Till is a bastion for the civil rights movement.

“But a more compelling case is how his murder inspired the student protests of 1960-61, all of whom were Emmett’s age and were forced into activism because of their horror at his murder.

“Furthermore, Greenwood, Mississippi, became this focal point of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s because Martin Luther King was visiting students and activists during this period.

“While we like to think of Till as this icon of the civil rights movement, he was more than that.”

Professor Elliott Gorn, of Chicago’s Loyola University, told Metro.co.uk the discovery of the 1955 warrant was “surprising” but brought no justice to Till’s family.

elliott gorn

Elliott Gorn wrote a book about the murder of Emmett Till and the open coffin burial (Image: Elliott Gorn)

“It brings attention to the murder and the fact that nobody was ever punished,” he said.

“But for the second time, a jury has ruled that Carolyn Bryant will not be charged.

‘Pretty much everyone is dead, there are no witnesses to question, their own complicity muddled by he-said, she-said kind of testimony.

“The practical implication is that no one will ever serve a day in jail for the murder of Emmett Till.

“The longer-term consequence is that the family will never feel that justice has been done.”

Despite this injustice, both professors believe the memory of Till will continue to shape race relations around the world and serve as a topic of conversation at moments like Black History Month.

Emmett to commemorate

A mural depicting a portrait of Emmett Till in his hometown of Chicago (Image: Getty Images)

Professor Gorn said: “Emmett Till has become a symbol to this day, particularly of criminal justice failures.

“Every murder in recent years – from Trayvon Martin to George Floyd – his name has been repeatedly mentioned in the news.

“In the ’60s, young civil rights activists called themselves ‘The Emmett Till Generation’.

“He has become the face of brutal racism that has gone unpunished and uncured.

“Till’s story is a reminder of how ugly American racism was before the civil rights movement, but also of how far the US has yet to go, especially in our own era of racial hatred in politics.”

Professor Houck added: “I am hopeful that moments like this during Black History Month and beyond will peak people’s curiosity about the story of Till.

“Digital technology is increasingly helping us to understand the life and legacy of Till in shaping the future of race relations and democracy itself.

“His story is a cautionary tale of justice denied. I hope this story will inspire others to investigate other unsolved murders of African Americans from the 1950s-1970s so that we can live in a better world today and tomorrow.”

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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Black History Month

October marks Black History Month which reflects the achievements, cultures and contributions of black people in Britain and around the world, and educates others about the diverse histories of people of African and Caribbean descent.

For more information on the events and celebrations taking place this year, visit the Black History Month official website.

Black history month logo

October is Black History Month (Image: Metro.co.uk)

https://metro.co.uk/2022/10/07/emmett-till-remembering-him-67-years-after-his-murder-17488837/ Emmett Till: In memory of him 67 years after his murder

Justin Scacco

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