The Truly Horrific Crime Scene Of Emmett Till

On August 28, 1955, a 14-year-old African American boy was abducted from a relative's home and tortured and killed by white men. His gruesome death was one of the cases that sparked the civil rights movement in Mississippi.

Emmett Louis Till was born in Chicago on July 25, 1941, to Louis and Mamie Till. He was nicknamed Bobo by his family, and he was described as a jokester who always had the ability to make those around him laugh. Till's parents separated in 1942, and his father was executed in 1945 for crimes he committed. Till was raised by his mother, who described the young boy as a responsible child who was happy to help her with house chores (via History).

In August 1955, Till convinced his mother to let him go with his great-uncle to Mississippi to visit their relatives. Mamie agreed to let his son stay there for a couple of weeks. In Money, Mississippi, Emmett spent time with his cousins swimming in ponds, picking cotton, and setting off fireworks, as reported by Famous Trials. Just a few days after arriving, however, Till would be dead.

The grocery incident

On August 24, Emmett Till and his cousins and friends went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to purchase some candy after spending the day under the sun. The store was owned by a white couple — Roy and Carolyn Bryant — and Carolyn was manning the cash register when the group went in, according to the Emmett Till Memory Project. Till purchased some gum, but when he went to pay, he placed his money in Carolyn's hand instead of leaving it on the counter, which was the typical practice for African Americans to do back then when dealing with white people.

The teens quickly left the store, and Carolyn exited as well and was headed to her car when Till whistled. There are different accounts of the incident. Some say that Till never whistled at Carolyn, while his cousins — who were there at the scene — say that he did. Knowing that Till's act could get them into trouble, the group immediately left the vicinity.

Emmett Till's abduction and murder

Roy Bryant learned of the incident at the grocery store, and he questioned some African American people to know where Emmett Till lived. He then sought help from his half-brother, John William "J.W." Milam, to abduct Till. As reported by Civil Rights Trail, Bryant and Milam headed to Till's great-uncle's house in the early hours of August 28, 1955. They took the boy from the home, tied him up, and placed him on a pickup truck.

The men then headed to a shed on a property owned by Milam and there, they tortured Till by repeatedly beating him with a pistol. His ear was cut off, and one eye was detached, per 60 Minutes. Afterward, Bryant and Milam transported Till to the Tallahatchie River where he was instructed to remove his clothing. He was then shot, and a 75-pound cotton gin fan was attached to his neck with barbed wire before he was thrown into the river.

Emmett Till's open-casket funeral

Three days after Emmett Till's abduction and murder, his body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River. Till's body was badly disfigured and bloated, and he was only identified by a ring with the initials "LT," which was given to him by his father, Louis Till. Authorities in Mississippi wanted to have the boy's body buried in haste, but Till's mother, Mamie, demanded his son's remains be brought back to Chicago, so she could identify him before the burial (via History). Mamie was devastated to hear of her son's death, and she left even more heartbroken upon seeing the condition of his son's body.

In an interview in 2003, Mamie described what she saw. She said the bridge of his son's nose looked like it had been chopped, and he only had two teeth left. While inspecting her son's ear, Mamie noticed the shot on his temple where the light shone through, as the bullet went through his head, per 60 Minutes. Despite her son's disfigured face and body, Mamie insisted on having an open-casket funeral to show everyone what his boy went through at the hands of his murderers.

The trial

In September 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were put on trial for the murder of Emmett Till. Upon their arrest, Bryant and Milam said that they took Till from his uncle's home, but they denied killing him and stated that they let him go. The pair had five attorneys volunteer to defend them pro bono, and the trial only took five days. According to Famous Trials, several individuals' testimonies pointed to the two men as the murderers of Till.

The jury — which consisted of 12 white males — deliberated for only 67 minutes before they announced that they had reached a verdict: not guilty. After their acquittal, Bryant and Milam admitted that they were the ones responsible for Till's death. However, they couldn't be tried again because of double jeopardy. Their confession was published in Look magazine in January 1956, per History. In it, the men detailed how they tortured and killed the young boy before tossing his body in the river. Reports say that the two men were paid $4,000 for the publishing of their confession.

The aftermath of Emmett Till's murder

Many were outraged over Emmett Till's murder, and many voiced their anger, especially after the acquittal of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. There were calls for the protection of the civil rights of African American people and rallies took place in different locations. Just a few weeks after Till was laid to rest, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man (via The New York Times). Till's mother, Mamie, also became active in the civil rights movement after her son's brutal murder.

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act was signed into law on October 7, 2007. Its goal is to reopen and reevaluate cold cases and violent crimes that were committed against African Americans before 1970. A few civil rights cold cases have been reopened and solved since. Although Till's case was reopened a few times throughout the years, no one has ever been officially held responsible for his murder.