#LiftEVERYvoice: Emmett Till

This week’s #LiftEVERYvoice segment features Emmett Tilll, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was tortured and killed after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. This event caused widespread outrage and inspired many to open public discourse about the mistreatment of African Americans in the south and beyond.

 

“I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back.” – Rosa Parks

 

Emmett’s History

By Javonda Nix, Resource Advocate in New Orleans

Emmett Till was born in Chicago on July 25, 1941, to Mamie and Louis Till. He was their only child. Emmett and his mother lived in a middle-class black neighborhood in the Southside of Chicago. His father died in the army, leaving Mamie to raise Emmett on her own. The neighborhood where Emmett was raised was a place where black families and businesses could flourish. Anyone in the community would define Emmett as an accountable, humorous, and infectiously vivacious child. Till’s mother worked long hours. In an effort to help her, he would make sure the cleaning was completed and dinner was ready by the time she came home from work. At the age of 5, Till was hit with Polio. Fortunately, he made a full recovery. What he would never recover from or escape is racism and the hate for the African American male.

In the summer of 1955 Till’s great uncle, Moses Wright, came to Chicago to visit. When his uncle was ready to go back home to Money, Mississippi, Till wanted to go with him. He begged his mother to let him go down south with his cousins and uncle. Although Till’s mother was reluctant, she decided to let him go. Little did Till’s mother know, she would never see her only child again. Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, Emmett and his cousins went into a local grocery store, Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, to buy snacks. They had just spent the majority of their day picking cotton. Emmet and his cousins went up to the register to purchase snacks. Instead of placing the money on the counter, Till placed it in the clerk, Carolyn Bryant’s, hand. Touching a white women’s hand was seen as disrespectful in 1955. As such, Carolyn Bryant threatened to shoot both Till and his cousin. Immediately following her threat, Bryant made her way to her car to get a gun. As Bryant angrily walked toward her car, Till whistled at her.  Knowing that this would cause trouble, the kids promptly ran away.

Carolyn told her husband’s family what happened, accusing Emmett of flirting with a white woman. A few days later, Carolyn’s husband, brother-in-law, and a few of their friends kidnapped Till. They beat Emmett beyond recognition and dragged him to the Tallahatchie River. Before dumping his body, they shot him in the head. As if that wasn’t enough, they tied barbed wire around his neck and threw his disfigured body into the water. Uncle Moses reported him missing to the police.Three days later his body was pulled out of the river. Till’s face was so disfigured that Uncle Moses couldn’t recognize him. Uncle Moses only knew it was him because Till was wearing the ring with his father’s initials.

Till’s mother demanded his body be shipped back to Chicago. She had an open casket funeral because she found it impossible to elaborate on this terrible hate crime against her son. This was her way of reaching out for help from the black community tell this story.  Emmett’s killers went to trial before an all-white male jury. Even with all the evidence and outrage from the black community, Till’s killers were acquitted and all charges were dropped.

After testifying that Till attempted to rape her, Carolyn Bryant remained silent for six decades about this notorious hate crime that today has a major impact on black history. Finally, in 2016 Carolyn broke her silence and admitted that her testimony and rape allegations about Emmett were false.

There has always been this historical myth that if a white woman cried she was raped, this crime must have been committed by a black man. It has always been easier for most white women and men to believe that such an attacker is a man of color. In reality, most attackers are of the same race as the victim. In the Jim Crow era, white men used rape and rumors of rape to justify violence against black men and keep the black man oppressed.

Source: https://www.biography.com/people/emmett-till-507515

 

A Letter to Emmett

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

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