Emmett Till Essay

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Source Citation: "The Emmit Till Case, 1955." DISCovering U.S. History. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center. Thomson Gale. 20 March 2006

The Emmett Till Case, 1955

Chilling Circumstances

The circumstances surrounding the death of Emmett Till provide chilling insight into the racism that dominated the South in the 1950s. Till was a fourteen-year-old Chicago native visiting relatives in Mississippi. While out with his cousins and friends on the night of 24 August 1955, he allegedly accosted a white woman in the grocery store owned by her husband. Accounts vary as to what Till actually said or did. According to the woman Till grabbed her and made lewd remarks. Some witnesses claimed that he only whistled at her. Still others asserted that he made no advances at all, that he whistled habitually to control a speech defect.

A Brutal Murder

Roy Bryant considered his wife's honor tainted by the incident. Several nights after the episode, Bryant, his half brother J. W. Milam, and possibly other accomplices kidnapped Till from his relatives' home in the middle of the night. The two men beat him severely and, apparently enraged that he had a picture of a white woman in his wallet, shot Till and threw him in a nearby river. Several days later the body was found, and Bryant and Milam were charged with murder.

A Surprise Verdict

Mississippi politicians and newspapers unanimously condemned the murderers and promised swift justice. However, Mississippians became more defensive as for weeks the press bombarded them with harsh condemnations of racial violence in the South. The highly publicized trial of the two men was charged with racial tension. African-American politicians and reporters from the North were treated contemptuously and were segregated in the courtroom. The prosecution was poorly prepared, and the substance of the defense was the astounding claim that Till was not actually dead. The badly decomposed body was identified only by...

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