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Emmett Till: About

Who was Emmett Till?

The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 brought nationwide attention to the racial violence and injustice prevalent in Mississippi. While visiting his relatives in Mississippi, Till went to the Bryant store with his cousins, and may have whistled at Carolyn Bryant. Her husband, Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, kidnapped and brutally murdered Till, dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River. The newspaper coverage and murder trial galvanized a generation of young African Americans to join the Civil Rights Movement out of fear that such an incident could happen to friends, family, or even themselves. Many interviewees in the Civil Rights History Project remember how this case deeply affected their lives.

Two of Emmett Till’s cousins, Wheeler Parker and Simeon Wright, witnessed Till’s kidnapping on the night of August 28, 1955 at the home of Moses Wright. They both describe their family’s background in Mississippi and Chicago, the incident at Bryant’s store, and the terror they felt when Bryant and Milan entered their home and took Till. Parker describes the funeral in Chicago, which drew thousands of people: “The solemn atmosphere there, you know, it’s just – it’s just unbelievable, I guess you could say. The air was filled with just, I guess, unbelief and how could it happen to a kid? People just felt helpless.”

Two journalists, Moses Newson and Simeon Booker, were assigned to cover the murder for the Tri-State Defender and JET, respectively. Booker attended the funeral with photographer David Jackson, who took the famous image of Till in the coffin. In this joint interview, Booker explains: “JET’s circulation just took off when they ran the picture. They had to reprint, the first time they ever reprinted JET magazine. And there was a lot of interest in that case. And the entire black community was becoming aware of the need to do something about it.” The two journalists also covered the trial and were instrumental in helping to find some key witnesses. Bryant and Milam were acquitted, however, which outraged the African American community nationwide. (Continue reading from Library of Congress)

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