Political and Social Movements

The Civil Rights Movement

Who was Emmett Till?

Emmett Till (1941–1955) was a black 14-year-old from Chicago who was brutally mutilated and killed in the Deep South in August 1955. The young man was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he allegedly whistled at a white female store clerk. Till was sharing a bed with his 12-year-old cousin when two white men came to get him on the morning of August 28; he was not seen alive again. His body was later found in a river, tied to a cotton-gin fan with barbed wire. An all-white jury acquitted the store clerk’s husband, Roy Bryant, and half-brother, J. W. Milman, of the crime. The events stirred anger in the black community and among civil rights proponents in general, setting off the civil rights movement.

For four decades, Till’s grisly murder continued to deeply trouble many, who believed justice could still be served. Though no one was ever convicted of the crime, and the two men who were tried for it had, by 2005, died, some of Till’s family and friends, as well as investigators, believed others who participated in the lynching might still be alive. In a quest for clues, Till’s body was disinterred in June 2005 to gather evidence. He was reburied in a quiet funeral. The Till family hoped the pending investigation would yield answers and justice.


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