Emmett Till was born in 1941 in Chicago and came to Money, Mississippi in Tallahatchie County to visit with relatives in 1955. He was accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, who was white and working as a cashier in a grocery store. Four days later, Emmett Till was kidnapped, beaten, and shot. His body was then dumped in the Tallahatchie river. Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant’s husband, and J.W. Milam were arrested for his murder and put on trial in the Tallahatchie County Court House in Sumner. The two men were found not guilty by an all white jury seated in the trial.
National attention was drawn to the trial of the two men because of the publicity surrounding the brutal murder of the young Emmett Till. His mother Mamie Till decided to have an open casket trial because she was so upset about the murder of her son. Thousands of people came to church to pay their respect and see evidence of this brutal hate crime. Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender published images of Emmett Till in his coffin. There was outrage throughout the county by the time it started. Despite overwhelming evidence against Bryant and Milam, the jury acquitted both after just 67 minutes in deliberation. The United States was shocked at the outcome.
In January, 1956, Bryant and Milam admitted to killing Emmett Till in an interview. However, they were protected by double jeopardy. The murder of Emmett Till and the subsequent trial was part of the growing Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. It came a year after the Brown v. Board of Education case that ended racial segregation and only a 100 days before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery. The trial brought national and international attention to Mississippi and it’s segregation laws and brutality. The national news media opened up Mississippi and what was happening to the world and the Emmett Till case became a major turning point in the modern Civil Rights Movement.
In 2007, Tallahatchie County held a program in front of the court house where they issued an official apology to the Till family for what happened in 1955. This started a process to come to grips with the role of the community in the murder and subsequent trial of Emmett Till. The Emmett Till Interpretive Center opened in 2013 to tell the story of Emmett Till. The court house was remodeled and the community was engaged to talk about this issue and work together. To learn more go to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center site and plan a visit. They have guided tours and it is very informative. I really urge people ,if they are from the Delta or visiting the Delta, to go by Sumner and learn more about what happened. I studied the event in school and talked about it when I was teaching, but when you actually are where it took place, it ushers in a new understanding. http://www.emmett-till.org