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This Day in History: July 25th

Emmett Till, Whose Lynching Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, Was Born

Emmett Louis Till, whose lynching for allegedly “taunting” a white woman in Mississippi in 1955 became the lightening rod for the Civil Rights Movement, was born on July 25, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois.

“Bobo,” as he was often called by his mother, Mamie Till, grew up in a middle-class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. While visiting family in Money, Mississippi, 14-year-old Till, was accused by Carolyn Bryant of taunting her in her family’s grocery store.

Her husband and his brother, armed with rifles, snatched Till from his bed in the home of his great-uncle. They took him to a barn and tortured and beat Till for three days. They gouged out his eyes, shot him in the head and threw Till’s body into the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound cotton-gin fan with barbed wire wrapped around his body.

Moses Wright, Till’s great-uncle, reported the kidnapping to the police, and Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were arrested the following day. On August 31, 1955, Till’s corpse was discovered in the river.

“Let the people see what I’ve seen,” said Mamie Till to the funeral director when she had to identify her son’s body.

She brought him home to Chicago and insisted on having an open-casket funeral. Thousands of people attended Till’s funeral. However, it was the publication of the gruesome image taken by David Jackson that forced Americans to confront the brutality of racism in the country.

The image was first published in Jet Magazine and displayed a stoic Mamie Till gazing over her child’s body.

Bryant and Milam tried to maintain their innocence after the murder. With the help of the NAACP Mississippi field secretary, Medgar Evers, and other black activists the prosecution produced compelling evidence.

Both Bryant and Miliam were acquitted of the murder by an all-white, all male jury. The two men would go on to sell their  story to Look Magazine for $4,000. They bragged about the murder in their story and saw their actions as a form of Southern justice implemented to protect white womanhood.

After the murder, Carolyn Bryant went decades without breaking her silence. However in a book by Duke University research scholar, Timothy Tyson, Bryant finally spoke up. The Blood of Emmett Till by Tyson reveals that Carolyn Bryant (in 2007, at age 72) confessed that she had fabricated her testimony.

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