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The case of Emmett Till was a tragic story that revolutionized the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. The United States of America is known as the land of the free but this “free” country has a large part of her history embedded in the transatlantic slave trade and the horrific injustices of the slavery era which had racism as its biggest driving force. Although the slave trade was abolished in the nineteenth century, the racism that was a major proponent for the continuance of the abolished trade seeped into the socio-economic relationship that existed between white people and newly freed black people. Emmett Till’s death was one of the many tragic killings that were prevalent in the period, especially in the Southern part of the country.

Who Killed Emmett Till?

When Emmett Till was killed, he was a fourteen-year-old and his murder is a defining story in the state of Mississippi where it took place. Till was born in Chicago in 1941, where he was raised by his mother Mamie, a single mother and in the course of his short life, he moved from Chicago to Detroit and then back to Chicago. The year he was killed was 1955, and his killing occurred while he was on vacation in Mississippi. Emmett Till, whose mother was originally from the state but fled when there was an exodus of blacks from Mississippi, still had relatives that lived there. His great-uncle, Mose Wright had spoken about the state in ways that piqued Emmett’s interest which led to him choosing to go there on holiday.

On the 28th of August, 1955 in the early hours of the day, two men Roy Bryant and J.W Milam went to the house of Mose Wright and kidnapped the fourteen-year-old Emmett Till. When they kidnapped him, they took him to the grocery store owned by Roy Bryant and proceeded to beat him repeatedly. After beating him, they took him down to the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head and disposed of the body in the river where he was found three days after, by two boys fishing in the river. It was clear that he had been tortured from the many marks of a beating that was on him. During Till’s funeral, his mother requested that her son’s casket be left open, so that people could see what had led to his murder.

Emmett Till
Emmett Till’s murderer Roy Bryant and his wife Carolyn image source

Why Was He Murdered?

The death of Emmett Till which was a shock to the African-American community was caused by events that had been fabricated. Four days before his abduction, Till had gone to Bryant Grocery Store with some of his cousins. The store was owned by Roy Bryant, his killer and Bryant’s twenty-one-year-old wife, Carolyn.

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The truth about what transpired in that store has been twisted too many times, that the actual events are not clearly known. But it is certain that while Emmett Till was in the store, he had whistled. Now, whistling was a way to flirt with women in the past, and for Carolyn, a white young woman, Till’s whistling was a sign that he was trying to flirt with her, which was a taboo that had been put in place because of their racial differences.

However, Till who was a chronic stammerer was known to whistle because it helped him speak more clearly. As a young man who grew up in the more tolerant city of Chicago, he never had to worry about what that action might be interpreted as, but in the south where racial tensions were high, he had unwittingly signed himself up for murder.

When the case of his murder got to court, Carolyn Bryant lied that Emmett had grabbed her wrist and waist while speaking in a lewd manner to her while Till’s murderers had insisted that they did not kill him. The trial of his death has been identified as one of the major turning points that emboldened blacks towards white in the south where the trial had taken place. It was one of the most publicized cases of the year. Emmett Till’s killers were found not guilty by the jury that was made up of only white males. The story of his death and the ensuing trial exposed the institutionalized racism that affected the lives of black people who had no reprieve in the law for the injustices that were meted out to them daily.

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