Emmett Till

Civil Rights Figure / Murder Victim

Born: 25 July 1941
Died: 29 August 1955 (murder)
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
Best known as: The teenage boy killed for whistling at a woman

The brutal murder of teenager Emmett Till, and the news coverage it drew, helped ignite the civil rights movement in America in the 1950s. Exactly what the 14-year-old African American boy said to offend Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old white woman working in a Mississippi grocery store, is unclear, but it seems to have involved a fresh comment and a whistle. This prompted her husband, store owner Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, to abduct, beat and shoot Emmett Till and throw his body in a river. An open-casket funeral and news pictures of his disfigured face caused worldwide news coverage of the case, in which an all-white jury acquitted the killers. After the trial, the two men, now immune from further prosecution, confessed the killing to the magazine Look. The case was reopened 50 years later and Till's body was exhumed for an autopsy, but the FBI announced in 2006 that it would not file federal charges and a grand jury refused to indict in 2007.

Extra credit:

Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, died in 2003 at age 81, still holding out hope for a rehearing of the case. Her book, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America, was published by Random House that year… When the grand jury considered the case in 2006, Carolyn Bryant was the one surviving party of interest.

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