"With his body water-soaked and defaced, most people would have kept the casket covered. [His mother] let the body be exposed. More than 100,000 people saw his body lying in that casket here in Chicago. That must have been at that time the largest single civil rights demonstration in American history."--- Jesse Jackson
At the time of his birth Emmett's mother had no way of knowing that he would one day become famous, his name and face secured in national history. Books would be written about him, documentaries produced. Countless newspaper and magazine articles would cover his story. She had no way of knowing that Emmett's name would slide off the tongues of ordinary citzens and scholars studying and discussing his life. There would be public and private conversations about him, and how his life was savagely taken from him.
Emmett Louis Till was born 74 years ago, July 25, 1941 in Chicago’s Cook County Public Hospital. He was raised by his mother and grandmother after his parents separated in 1942. Mamie Bradley and Louis Till married in 1940 when both were 18. Fourteen-years-old Till grew up in a middle class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, where he attended desegregated schools. He was a student at James McCosh Elementary.
|14-years-old Emmett Till|
Mamie Bradley Till was born in a small Delta town in Webb, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Her family moved to Illinois when she was two-years-old during the Great Migration that lasted from 1900 to 1960. The migration was a time when Black folks were leaving the South in attempts to escape severe racism, a life of share-cropping and poverty. The migrants were in search of economic opportunities, educations and a better life.
Bradley thrived in Illinois. She was the fourth African American to graduate from Argo Community High School, where the majority of students were White. She was the first African American student to get on the A-Honor Roll. Emmett Till’s father, Louis Till, was a private in the U.S. Army. While stationed in Italy he raped two women, murdering a third. He was court martialed and executed by the U. S. Army July 2, 1945. His execution was verified by The American Battle Monuments Commission. He was buried in the Orsne-Aisne Cemetery in Fore-en-Tardenois, France. Louis Till was assigned to the 177th Port Company, 37th Port Battalion.
Although many Whites in Mississippi were unemployed and lived in poverty, African Americans were stuck at the bottom of the ladder. Poor is poor. Destitute is destitute but poor Whites in the deep South felt they were better off than poor African Americans. They did not speak to White folks unless they were spoken to. They used back doors to enter White folks’ houses. They talked to them with their eyes looking downward in a subservient posture.
The Kidnapping/Murder of Mamie Till's Son
Mamie Till, 33, testified at the trial of the White males who kidnapped and murdered her only child. One defense attorney was disrespectful towards her when she took the witness stand. He implied that Till was only interested in collecting on the insurance policies that she had on her son. The attorney, one of four representing J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, pro bono, demanded to know if she had contacted the insurance company.
Q. To whom were those policies made payable? Who was the beneficiary in those policies?
A. I was the beneficiary on one and my Mother on the other.
Q. Were they both for four hundred dollars each?
A. Well, one was for a hundred and ninety-three dollars. I think, and one was a little bit more. It was approximately four hundred dollars on the two of them.
Q. And have you collected on those policies?
A. No, Sir.
Q. Have you tried to collect on those polices? (the question was asked again because the prosecution objected to the line of questioning)
A. I have been waiting to receive a death certificate.
Q. And did you direct his attention as to how to act around White people, and how to conduct himself about a White man? The paper says that you cautioned him about his behavior before any White men. Did you call his attention to that?
A. Yes, Sir.
|Mose Wright hold pair of Till's pants|
Milam, sounding angrier than Bryant, asked Wright if he recognized him or Bryant. Wright said, “No, Sir. I don’t know you. And then he said to me, ‘How old are you?’ And then I said, ‘Sixty four.’ And then he said, ‘Well, if you know any of us here tonight, then you will never live to get to be sixty five". He told Mose "If this is not the right boy, then we gonna to bring him back and put him in the bed".
As Milam, Bryant and Till exited the house they walked through Wright’s bedroom, where his wife Elizabeth was standing. Milam said to her: “You get back in the bed, and I mean, I want to hear the springs".
Three Days Later, Identifying A Corpse
|Gin fan attached to Emmett Till's neck|
|Emmet Till in death|
A. I looked at the face very carefully. I looked at the ears, and the forehead, and the hairline, and also the hair; and I looked at the nose and the lips, and the chin. I just looked at it all over very thoroughly. And I was able to find out that it was my boy. And I knew definitely that it was my boy beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Emmett's Funeral Attended By Thousands
|Mamie Till leans over casket bearing her only child|
On Sunday, August 28 Roy Bryant was questioned by Leflore County Sheriff George Smith about the kidnapping. Bryant admitted to taking Emmett Till from Mose Wright’s house, but later dropped him off at Bryant’s grocery store in Money. He thought Till would find his way back home. Bryant was placed under arrest. On the 29th J. W. Milam went to talk Cothran. He admitted to taking Till from Wright’s house. They later took him back to Money, Mississippi where they let him go. Milam was also placed under arrest. The two killers repeated the same story.
A. This nigger man came in the store and he stopped there at the candy case.
Q. When this Negro man came in the store, where you in the store?
A. I was farther back in the store, behind the counter.
Q. Just what did he say when he grabbed your hand?
A. He said, “How about a date, baby.”
Q. When you freed yourself, what happened then?
A. I turned around and started to the back of the store.
Q. You say he caught you?
Q. How did he catch you?
A. well, he put his left hand on my waist, and he put his other hand on the other side.
Q. Did he say anything to you then at the time he grabbed you there by the cash register?
A. He said, “What’s the matter, baby? Can’t you take it?
Wright, the son of Mose Wright, estimated how long it would have taken for Till to do all the things Bryant testified to: “And none of the things she would later allege, he insists, could have happened in the short time --- less than a minute --- that Till was alone with her before Wright walked into the store. It couldn’t have happened, Wright said, without Till jumping over a counter that was separating him and her, then jumping back before Wright came inside the store". (Chicago Tribune)
Mose Wight Points at J.W. Milam in Court
|Mose Wright points at J. W. Milam|
A. I didn’t mention no missing.
Q. Mose, do you deny that you made this statement to Mr. Breland, Mr. Henderson, Mr. Kellum and me that the only reason you could identify that body in the boat as being Emmett Till was because he was clean faced or smooth faced, and because Emmett Till was missing,
A. I did not say it.
Q. You did not make that statement?
A. No, Sir, I did not make it.
|18-years-old sharecropper Willie Reed|
FBI Reopens Till Case
The Justice Department reopened the Emmett Till murder case in 2004 to determine if someone other than Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were involved in the kidnapping and murder of Till.
Killers Confess to Murdering Till In Magazine Interview
|Roy Bryant (left) and J. W. Milam|
“If there were others involved, as Willie Reed and Moses Wright had testified under oath, Milam and Bryant did not name them. Mamie Till went to Washington to press the Federal Government to re-open the case. Despite thousands of letters protesting Mississippi's handling of the murder, President Dwight Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ruled out a federal investigation. Eisenhower didn't even answer Mamie Till's telegram.
“No one ever did time for the killing of the 14 year-old black boy from Chicago. But his murder, and the trial and acquittal of his killers, sent a powerful message: If change was going to come, people would have to put themselves on the line. Contributors to civil rights groups soared. And one hundred days after the death of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, and the Montgomery bus boycott began". (The American Experience, PBS)
Mamie Till-Mobley died of cardia arrest in a Chicago hospital June 6, 2003. She was 81. J.W. Milam died of bone cancer in 1981. He was 61. Roy Bryant, suffering back problems and legally blind, died of cancer in 1994. He was 63.