Who was Emmett Till?
Born in Chicago, he was the only son of Mamie Till, a Mississippi native whose family moved to Chicago as part of the Great Migration. At age 6, he developed polio, which left him with a stutter. Despite the setback, he remained outgoing. He liked to play baseball, ride bicycles and fish with his cousins and friends. He loved having fun so much that he would pay people to tell him jokes. In August 1955, he traveled to Mississippi for a vacation with his cousin, Wheeler Parker. The boys stayed at the home of Parker’s grandfather, Moses Wright, in Money.
Was this his first trip to Mississippi?
No, his mother said this was his fourth trip.
What did he do in Mississippi?
He picked cotton with his cousins during the day and on Aug. 27, 1955, the Saturday night of their visit, the cousins went to the bigger town of Greenwood, 10 miles away. “It was like the Fourth of July,” recalled Parker.
What happened at Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market?
Emmett Till and his cousins visited the store on the evening of Aug. 24, 1955. Exactly what happened inside the store remains a matter of debate. Till’s cousins say he did nothing more than whistle at Carolyn Bryant. She initially told defense lawyers that Till grabbed her hand, asked her for a date, said goodbye and whistled at her. But when she appeared in court weeks later, she testified that Till had grabbed her with both hands on her waist and told her that he had had sex with white women, uttering an obscenity.
What happened next?
In the early hours of Aug. 28, four days after the incident at the store, Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, showed up with guns at the home of Moses Wright. They took Till away and along with other men brutally beat Till before shooting him to death.Till’s body was dumped into the Tallahatchie River and found on Aug. 31, 1955.
Where was Till beaten?
In a barn on a plantation southwest of Drew in the Mississippi Delta. Milam reportedly beat Till with his .45 automatic pistol. Others reportedly joined in.
Where was Till killed?
Milam told Look magazine writer William Bradford Huie that he shot Till to death near Glendora, but Milam and Roy Bryant both later admitted they had killed Till in the same barn where he was beaten.
Was anyone else involved?
Sharecropper Willie Reed reported seeing four white men in the front of a white-topped green Chevy pickup with Till in the back. Milam’s brother, Leslie, is regarded as a main suspect. He ran the plantation where the killing took place. The FBI also identified Elmer Kimbell and Melvin Campbell in its investigation.
Who fired the fatal bullet?
Huie put the blame on Milam. Donham told the FBI that she had been told her brother-in-law, Melvin Campbell, fired the fatal bullet.
Were any black field hands involved?
Reed reported seeing three black field hands in the back of the pickup, guarding Till. Names that have emerged afterward included Levi “Too Tight” Collins, Oso Johnson and Henry Lee Loggins. When questioned, Collins and Loggins denied involvement. Johnson’s son told the FBI that his father had said he was with Milam and Bryant that night. Another name that arose was Willie Hubbard. Some reports suggested the field hands cleaned blood from the barn, spread cottonseed to conceal the crime and later cleaned blood from the truck. Most experts agree that the field hands did not participate voluntarily.
Were the field hands really jailed to keep them from testifying?
That is what one defense lawyer told Florida State University graduate student Stephen Whitaker — that Collins and Loggins were hidden in jail during the trial so they couldn’t be located as witnesses.
How do we know that the body found in the Tallahatchie River was Till’s?
His mother positively identified her son’s body. In 2005, DNA tests confirmed the body found was indeed Till’s.
What inspired Emmett Till’s mother to have his casket open at his funeral?
She may have gotten the idea from the widow of George Lee, an African-American minister who was shot dead in Belzoni after he kept helping register black voters in the Mississippi Delta. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral, where Lee’s widow, Rosebud, opened the casket so that people could see that her husband had been shot in the face with shotgun pellets (which the sheriff claimed were fillings from his teeth). Photos of Till’s open casket ran in the Chicago Defender.
Was Till castrated?
No. A 2005 exhumation and autopsy confirmed he wasn’t castrated.
Did Tallahatchie County Sheriff Clarence Strider really testify for the defense?
Yes, he did. After initially identifying the body as Till’s, he took the witness stand weeks later, telling the jury that the body he found in the Tallahatchie River had been in the water for 10 to 15 days and that he couldn’t tell if the body was black or white.
What happened to Milam and Bryant after the trial?
At first, the killers profited from their crime. They sold their story to reporter William Bradford Huie for $3,150. But after the story appeared, the two men suffered from the publicity. Milam was forced to move to Texas because he couldn’t get loans. In 1965, he and his wife, Juanita, moved to Greenville, Miss., where he worked as a heavy equipment operator. Bryant gave up his store and became a welder, eventually becoming blind. In 1979, his wife, Carolyn, divorced him, in part, because of his abuse. After returning to the Mississippi Delta to run a store, he wound up in prison, not for murder, but for food stamp fraud. In the end, both Milam and Bryant died of cancer.
What happened to the others reportedly involved?
Leslie Milam, who managed the plantation where Till was beaten and killed, lost his job after the 1955 trial. According to the FBI, he confessed on his deathbed that he had been involved in Till’s murder. Later in 1955, Kimbell, who was reportedly with the killers that night, shot to death a black man, Clinton Melton, in Glendora after Melton supposedly put in too much gas in his car. An all-white jury acquitted him. Carolyn Bryant Donham told the FBI that Kimbell walked in with J.W. Milam and Bryant when they arrived with Till. Melvin Campbell’s widow told the FBI that her husband had admitted his involvement in the crime.
What happened to Emmett Till’s mother?
She continued to speak out about her son’s case, wanting to make sure his death was remembered and never repeated. Although she never had any more children, she remained dedicated to education and other issues involving children. She taught in Chicago schools and formed the Emmett Till Players to teach children to memorize and recite the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. Two years after the trial, she married Gene Mobley, her staunchest supporter. To keep her son’s legacy alive, she co-wrote a play with David Barr, The State of Mississippi vs Emmett Till, and co-authored her memoir with Christopher Benson, Death of Innocence: The Hate Crime That Changed America. Two weeks before the national premiere of the documentary, The Murder of Emmett Till, which would help bring her son’s case back to the fore, she died of heart failure at the age of 81.
Sources: “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement” by Devery Anderson; “Death of Innocence: The Hate Crime That Changed America” by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson; FBI report on Emmett Till investigation