This marks the 52nd year since the murder of Emmett Till. Today, family members are still seeking justice for Emmett’s brutal murder in 1955. I can remember vividly when this incident took place, although I was a year younger than Till, it was something that scared me about the South.
I remember seeing the terrible photo of Till’s mutilated body in Jet Magazine, and I was afraid to look at Jet for a long time afterward. In my hometown of Milwaukee, Wis., I remember men in our community were so outraged, many loaded their hunting rifles in their cars and headed for Mississippi. It was rumored that these men were turned back when they got to the Illinois state line.
While doing the Streetbeat column this past week I realized there are many young people who aren’t aware of Emmett Till as well as many young adults. It was before their time, and it is up to those of us older to relate the historic events. Till’s murder is considered a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
Following is a short timeline about the murder of Emmett Till:
1941: July 25th, Emmett Louis Till is born to Louis and Mamie Till. His nickname was “Bobo.”
1945: Till’s father, Louis, dies while serving in the Army in Europe. He leaves a ring with his initials L.T. inscribed for his son. It is this ring that identifies Till’s body when it was recovered from the Tallahatchie River.
1955: On Aug. 20, Emmett and his cousin Curtis Jones depart Chicago by train, headed to Money, Miss. for a summer visit with great-uncle Mose Wright. Till and Jones arrive on Aug. 21, 1955.
Aug. 24: Emmett and Curtis drive into Money and stop at Bryant’s Grocery store to buy some candy. The store is owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant. Bryant’s half-brother J.W. Milam was reportedly fishing on this day. Emmett allegedly had some photos of his friends back in Chicago that he showed to the local children. The local children dared Emmett to talk to Carolyn Bryant. Emmett, it has been stated, went inside the store and purchased some bubble gum and allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant.
Aug. 28: Roy Bryant (Carolyn’s husband) and J.W. Milam entered Mose Wright’s home with a pistol and flashlight looking for young Till. He was taken from the home and later Bryant and Milam described how they beat him with a .45 gun in the barn and then took him to the Tallahatchie River where he was shot in the head. A large metal cotton fan was fastened to his neck with barbed wire, and he was pushed into the river.
Aug. 29: J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant are arrested for kidnapping in connection with Till’s disappearance.
Aug. 31: Emmett’s badly decomposed body is pulled from the river. His uncle, Mose Wright, identified the body from the ring with the initials L.T.
Sept. 2: Emmett’s body arrives back in Chicago. His mother collapsed at the sight of the casket. His body is taken to A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home. Former congressman Gus Savage was instrumental in helping Mrs. Till with arrangements.
A family friend, Arlene Brigham, was also on hand to help Mrs. Till. Brigham told me on numerous occasions how people were seeking to befriend Mrs. Till for their own personal goals. “At that time Mamie’s mother was living, and she was quite religious and wanted Mamie to be careful about talking to people. I would take food and go with Mamie to meetings, but soon the notoriety became so great, it was hard to continue.”
Sept. 3: Emmett’s body is viewed at Roberts Temple Church in Chicago. Mrs. Till said she wanted the whole world to see what they had done to her child. Thousands (including my stepmother, Martina, and her daughter, Rita Cloyd decided to wait outside) stood in line to view the body. People were fainting and overcome with grief seeing the badly beaten body of Till.
Sept. 6: Emmett Till is buried at Burr Oak Cemetery. On the day Emmett is buried Bryant and Milam are indicted for his kidnapping.
Sept. 19: Trial begins in Sumner, Miss. with an all-white male jury.
Sept. 21: Mose Wright, Emmett’s great-uncle, testified in court that Bryant and Milam had kidnapped Emmett from his home. He pointed to them and stated, “dar they is.”
Sept. 23: Jury finds Milam and Bryant not guilty after deliberating approximately one hour. Willie Reed, an 18-year-old sharecropper, had also testified, saying he heard beatings and screaming coming from the Milam barn. They both leave that same day for Chicago. Upon arrival Reed collapses and suffers a nervous breakdown.
1956: Jan. 24, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant are paid $4,000 by Look Magazine for their story on how they murdered Till. The article is titled, “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,” is written by journalist William Bradford Huie.
1980: J.W. Milam dies of cancer in Mississippi.
1990: Roy Bryant dies in Mississippi, also of cancer.
Jan. 6, 2003: Mamie Till Mobley dies of heart failure at age 81. I attended her funeral and inside her casket, a picture of Emmett was enclosed.
2004: The late CBS reporter Ed Bradley attempted to interview Carolyn Bryant Donham, who today lives in Greenville, Miss., but was unsuccessful. One of her sons allegedly chased away the TV crew.