From the African American Registry

Emmett Till was born on this date in 1941. He was a young African-American boy whose murder is still a graphic reminder of the volume of 20th century white racial hate in America against Black people.

Emmett Till & his mother

Emmett Till & his mother Mamie Till Bradley in Chicago about eight months before he was murdered.

Emmett Louis “Bobo” Till was from Chicago, the son of Mamie Carthan and Louis Till. His parents separated in 1942, and Mamie largely raised him. His father was drafted into the United States Army to fight in World War II in 1943. He was accused of and executed by the U.S. Army for raping two Italian women and murdering a third.

In the summer of 1955, when young Till was 14 years old, he went to stay with family in Mississippi. He arrived in Money, Mississippi on August 21, and went to stay with his great uncle, Moses Wright.

On the August 24, he joined other teenagers as they went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to get some refreshments. They were children of sharecroppers and had been picking cotton all day. The market was owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, whose clientele was made up of the local sharecropper population. While in the store, Till reportedly whistled at Carolyn and/or made a romantic proposition of her, an action that supposedly angered her husband. At about 2:30 AM on August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, kidnapped Emmett from his uncle’s house.

They brutally beat him and then shot him with a .45 caliber pistol before tying a heavy fan to his neck with barbed wire in order to weigh it down. An eye was also gouged out. Milam and Bryant were soon under suspicion in the boy’s disappearance, and were arrested on the August 29. Emmet’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River three days later on the last day of August. Till’s mother brought his body back to Chicago. A funeral home director asked her if she would like the body to be cleaned up for viewing, but she declined. She wanted people to see how badly the boy’s body had been disfigured in the incident, and chose to leave his coffin open.

Press photographers took pictures and circulated them around the country, drawing intense reaction by the public. Some reports indicate that up to 50,000 people filed through the funeral home to view the body. The photograph of Emmett Till’s mutilated corpse energized the African American civil rights movement when they appeared in Jet Magazine.

Read more about the Till case and reaction to it, here.