On Aug. 24 1955 in Money, Miss., 14-year-old African American Emmett Till was kidnapped, held captive and brutally and savagely beaten for hours before being found four days later with a gunshot to the head and barbed wire around his neck, floating naked in the Tallahatchie River tied to a 75-pound cotton gin metal fan. His injuries showed immense torture: Till’s eye had been gouged out by a bullet, he had been castrated, drill holes had been inflicted onto his body and head with a forging tool, his skin pierced with an awl, his teeth knocked out, a side of his face caved in, his wrists among other bones had been broken, he was missing his left ear, just to name some of the injuries Till had sustained. Till ultimately succumbed to a gunshot wound to the head.
This was Till’s hellish fate because according to his cousins, he whistled at 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, a young caucasian woman working at her abusive husband, Roy Bryant’s, corner store where Till had stopped to buy two cents worth of gum.
A Chicago native, Till was in the then-segregated state of Mississippi to visit family, whose home was aggressively visited that night around 2 a.m., to kidnap Till by Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W Milam, who went on to lynch him and dump him in the Tallahatchie River that morning.
Both men acquitted shortly after an hour deliberation by an all-white and all-male jury, Carolyn Bryant testified that Till had threatened her, grabbed her, and told her obscenities before claiming that he had been with white women before. Both Roy Bryant and J.W Milam admitted their guilt once acquitted.
Mamie Till, Emmett Till’s mother, insisted on showing her son’s bloated and bludgeoned remains with an open casket covered with glass during his funeral famously saying, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” Thousands of people viewed Till’s remains and photographs spread like wildfire throughout the United States, lighting one of the flames of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. “Mamie Till didn’t want anyone to have to go through the pain and anxiety that black mothers face knowing that one day their children might die and not receive justice,” sophomore English and philosophy major Nia Alvarez-Mapp said.
“This launched the mindset of ‘what are we going to do? Are we going to sit here and let this roll off our backs, or are we going to stand up?’ The idea that something so gruesome can happen to an African American child who whistled at a white woman is appalling, and his picture and story spreading across the country is ultimately a major factor of what started the Civil Rights Movement,” Alvarez-Mapp said.
Cabrini University is home to an expert on Emmett Till, professor and Chair of history and political science Dr. Darryl Mace, has written and published a book, “In Remembrance of Emmett Till,” which primarily analyzes how different media outlets formed different perceptions among the masses regarding the Till lynching based on the differing regions of the United States.
“What was fascinating about this trial was that situational regionalism played a serious factor in how this trial was reported to each part of the country,” Mace said. “Some newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Evening Bulletin would refer to Till’s lynching as a murder and not a lynching, when in fact he was lynched and not murdered. This narrative made it sound like the crime was committed without any regards to Till’s race and made what happened to Till harder to grasp. The Philadelphia Tribune, which was the African-American newspaper, contradicted this false language and reported the crime for what it was, which was a lynching.”
According to the New York Post recently new evidence has emerged where now 82-year-old Carolyn Bryant admits that her testified encounter with Till was false during an interview in 2007 with writer Timothy Tyson, according to a new book he released entitled “The Blood of Emmett Till.”
Mace believes that the blame for Till’s lynching is being unrightfully blamed on Carolyn Bryant by some of the media.
“When I saw the name of Tyson’s book I was worried that this would happen, where Carolyn Bryant would essentially be crucified by the media. If you take the title itself, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” with her recounted testament, it can interpreted that Till’s ‘blood’ is on her hands,” Mace said.
“Her false story that was given at the trial did not kill Emmett Till, those two men did.” Mace said. “He was already dead, and she in her mind tried to protect her husband, who was abusing her. She didn’t want her husband to know about the whistling incident in the first place because she knew of his violent tendencies. Witnesses sitting outside of the storefront are the ones who told Roy Bryant about Till. His body was discovered before she perjured herself.”
“I guarantee that she did what she did in the 1950s because she was afraid of what the men in her family would say or do to her,” junior education major, Treci Butler said. “This does not take away from the fact that she is obviously a racist woman. Due to her lack of integrity, that young boy’s family suffered.”
In 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reopened Till’s case to see if witnesses or accomplices could be brought to justice, but was closed three years later due to insufficient evidence.
“He was lynched,” Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald, who has a PhD in black studies, said, “and it is a horrendous example of white supremacy and a form of terrorist action being enforced.”
After the trial, Bryant stayed out of the public eye, only to reemerge for her interview with Tyson. Bryant is said to have told Tyson that she “felt tender sorrow” for Mamie Till, who passed away in 2003. It is not said whether or not Bryant felt guilt or apologized.
“Some headlines I’ve read are inaccurate,” Mace said. “Nothing she did lead to his death, and she is being blamed now for Till’s death because both of his true killers are deceased now. A white woman is now being blamed for the lynching that multiple white men committed. Did she perjure herself? Yes. Did she murder him? No. All of these people are angry and want her to be retried, but she didn’t kill him. In some ways, her image is being attacked and ‘lynched’ by the media. Although I feel no need to advocate for her, I want the media to be focused on the facts, and not so much on having someone that is still alive to blame.”