On this date fifty-seven years ago, 14 year old Emmett Till was beaten, tortured and shot in the head for allegedly whistling and/or flirting at a white woman while visiting his uncle in Mississippi. The white men who killed him weighed down his body with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His swollen, disfigured body was discovered three days later at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. The men were later acquitted of murder by an all white jury.
His death drew national attention and is considered a seminal event of the Civil Rights movement. One of the reasons for this was his mother’s decision to halt an immediate burial down in Mississippi and demand an open casket for her dead son back in Chicago. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby,” she famously said. Tens of thousands of people visited the A.A. Rayner Funeral Home, while photographs of his mutilated corpse circulated around the country, including an influential article from Jet Magazine.
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white bus rider, sparking a year-long boycott of the public bus system in Montgomery, Alabama, she later said, “I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back.”
(Photo Source: Jet Magazine)