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Boy's slaying fuels Civil Rights Movement

by Shelly Awaya, Lifestyles editor

Martin Luther King Jr. Emmett Till. Rosa Parks.

Each had a part in the push for black civil rights.

The youngest of the three, Emmett Till, paid the ultimate price for being a black boy in the South.



Emmett Louis Till was born July 25, 1941 in Chicago, Ill. to Louis and Mamie Till (later Till-Mobley). At the age of five he was stricken with polio, and although he recovered, he spoke with a slight stutter.

Till-Mobley became a single mother after Till’s father died during World War II. They remained in Chicago with other family members, and Emmett Till went to McCosh Elementary, an all-black school.

Emmett Till went to spend a two-week vacation with cousin Wheeler Parker and his great-uncle Moses Wright and family in Money, Miss. during the late summer of 1955. That was the last time his mother ever saw her son alive.

On Aug. 24, Emmett Till and his friends went to a white-owned local grocery store, Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, to buy some candy. The store clerk, Caroline Bryant, claimed that Till whistled at her as he left the store. Her husband, storeowner Roy Bryant, heard about the incident and called his half-brother John Milam to help look for Till and “teach him a lesson.”

At about 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 28, the two white men showed up at Moses Wright’s home and kidnapped Till. A few days later, Till’s nude body was found in the Tallahatchie River, with a huge cotton gin separator tied around his neck with barbed wire.

Till had been severely beaten and shot above his right ear, which was partially torn off. Only two or three of his teeth remained, so Till’s mother had to identify him by his father’s ring and the color in the one eye that was left on Till’s face.

Although Till’s body was mutilated and disfigured, his mother insisted on having an open casket at his funeral so that the world could see the horrors of his murder. More than 200,000 people viewed Till’s body as it lay in state for four days at A.A. Rayner Funeral Home in Chicago.

Roy Bryant and his half-brother John Milam were charged with Till’s murder and were tried in Sumner, Miss. The trial lasted only five days, and after only one hour and seven minutes of deliberation, the all-white jury acquitted both Bryant and Milam.

In January 1956, the men sold their story to Look magazine for $4,000, admitted they killed Till. No one has ever been convicted of Till’s murder.

The black community’s reaction to Till’s murder and Bryant and Milam’s acquittal was one of the starting points of America’s Civil Rights Movement.

Many blacks stopped purchasing from the Bryant’s store, and it eventually went out of business.
One hundred days after Emmett Till’s death, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white patron.

Following this was the bus boycott, led by Martin Luther King Jr., that gave the Civil Rights Movement its momentum.


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