Emmett Till was an African American boy, who was murdered by two white men at the age of 14. His murder was one of the driving forces of the Civil Rights Movement. Till was born on July 25, 1941 to Mamie and Louis Till in Chicago, Illinois. He was nicknamed “Bobo” as a child and was said to have been an industrious, happy child. His father was often abusive towards his mother, and they separated in 1942, when Till was just an infant. Till had polio at the age of 6, which left him with a permanent stutter. Still, he was a happy child and liked to joke and play with his friends. Till’s mother remarried a man named Pink Bradley in 1951, with whom she moved to Detroit. Till remained in Chicago, where he lived with his grandmother. The couple separated in 1952, and Mamie moved back to Chicago. She worked for the U.S. Air Force, and Till helped his mother with the household chores.
Bradley sometimes visited Mamie in Chicago and threatened her. Till, who was now 11 years old, took a knife and threatened to kill his stepfather if he ever bothered his mother. Till was a strong boy, big and muscular for his age, and had already started to look like an adult. In 1964, when Till was 14, his mother wanted him to accompany her on a vacation, but Till wanted to visit his mother’s uncle, Mose Wright, in the Mississippi Delta. Wright worked as a sharecropper and minister, and Till enjoyed the stories that Wright had to tell. Mamie agreed to let Till visit her uncle, but warned him to keep his tongue in check in front of the whites in Mississippi, as they were very different from the ones in the North. Till assured his mother that he understood.
Till arrived in Mississippi in August 1955. Soon after his arrival, he visited a supermarket with some of his cousins. The owner of the store was Roy Bryant, but at the time of Till’s visit, his wife Carolyn was alone at the store. One of the boys in Till’s group, dared him to speak to Carolyn. There are several accounts of what happened next. According to one version, Till wolf whistled at Bryant, and tried to ask her out on a date. Carolyn got so scared that she went to her car to retrieve a gun in order to deter Till’s advances. According to other sources, however, Till did whistle, but it was only because of his speech impediment and difficulty with pronouncing the letter “b”. So Till may just have been whistling because he had difficulty asking Carolyn for bubblegum.
In any case, when Carolyn’s husband found out about the incident, he took his half-brother with him, went over to Mose’s house and threatened to kill Till if he didn’t get into the car. The two drove Till to a remote location, brutally beat him and then shot him. They then tied him down with a 7 kg bale of cotton and dumped his body in the river. The body was found three days letter, by which time it was horribly bloated. Mose reported the whole incident to Till’s mother, who came down to Chicago immediately. When her son’s body was discovered, she made it a point to hold an open casket funeral, to show the world the brutality of the incident. This murder attracted wide spread media attention, with many newspapers in the country reporting it and speaking against it. Several organizations, such as the NAACP, got involved as well.
Bryant and his brother Milam were tried in September 1955. Their trial lasted for 5 days, and the verdict was “Not Guilty”. The two men were eventually also cleared of kidnapping charges, whereas Wright was ordered to relocate from Mississippi. Wright moved to Chicago, changed his name and spent his life keeping a low profile. Mamie remarried, became a teacher, and continued to propagate her cause till her own death. Till’s case has been widely documented through films, books and articles. A statue of him was unveiled in Denver in 1976, and later relocated to Colorado. Till’s murder was one of the galvanizing factors that led to the Civil Rights Movement due to the widespread publicity it received. He is an iconic figure, and his statue now stands to Martin Luther King, Jr.