Emmett Till (25 July 1941 – 28 Aug 1955)
Perhaps it was it because he was from Chicago. He lived in a fairly integrated neighbourhood, where he attended an integrated school. Perhaps he didn’t heed the warnings of his mother that Mississippi and Chicago were two very different places. Perhaps because he didn’t know any better; he was only 14 after all.
Emmett Till was 14 when he allegedly whistled at a White woman in Mississippi at a grocery store. As a result, he was taken from his great-uncles house by 3 men in the early hours of the morning, beaten, shot in the head and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. His unrecognisable body was found three days later. He was only 14.
At his funeral in Chicago was attended by tens of thousands of people, who filed past his open casket after his mother said, ‘There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. I just wanted the world to see’.
The act of showing the world, incensed not only Black, but White America, which showed the differing attitudes of the North and the South. The trail of the perpetrators (Bryant and Milam), lasted for 5 days and acquitted the two men, in spite of the fact that they admitted to taking Till and witnesses testified to having seen Milam enter a shed and hearing blows and screams. The jury later admitted that they thought the men were guilty, but didn’t feel as though life in prison or the death penalty was punishment befitting a crime; two Whites killing a Black man. But he wasn’t a man. He was 14 years old. Bryant and Milam confessed to killing Emmet in January 1956 but they never served time in jail, and both died of cancer in their 60’s.
The story of Emmett had an effect on one Rosa Parks, as she refused to get off her seat and move to the back of the bus 4 months later. She said ‘I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back’.