Lest We Forget

Emmett Till1941-1955

A 14-year-old boy plays a prank on the owner of a country store in rural Mississippi. The boy is black, the woman is white. Three days later the woman's husband tortures and kills the boy.

Emmett Till was visiting his uncle Mose Wright in the summer of 1955. When she saw him off at the train station in Chicago, his mother Mamie Till gave Emmett a ring - as a reminder that a black boy needs to be very careful in the South. Emmett took the ring and gave his mother his watch. "Take this mom, I won't need it where I'm going." Emmett was going to Money, Mississippi where his time would end.

One afternoon Emmett and his cousins went to a country store to buy candy. Other local black kids were hanging out in front of the store. The kids chatted, they bragged, they laughed. In short: they did what kids do. Emmett showed off pictures from Chicago, which he had brought with him: pictures of himself with his white friends, a photo of a white girl who Emmett said was "his girl". The local kids didn't believe that he had white friends. In the South Blacks didn't have white friends. They challenged Emmett: go inside the store and talk to the white woman.

Emmett went inside.

When he paid for the candy he put the money directly into the woman's hand instead of putting the coins on the counter. The white woman, Carolyn Bryant, was furious. She ran after him as he left the store. Emmett thought this was funny and whistled at her as she was walking away from the store towards her car. The other kids told Emmett that the woman was going to get her gun and kill him. Emmett and his cousins got scared. They ran back to their own car and drove away.

Three days later, on August, 28th, two white men came to Mose Wright's house, where Emmett stayed for the summer. Roy Bryant, the store owner and white woman's husband, and J. W. Milam, his half-brother. They had guns. They took Emmett from his uncle's house. They drove Emmett to a barn. They tortured and executed the 14-year-old boy. Emmett's body was found in the Tallahatchie river, mutilated beyond recognition - the only proof that the dead body was Emmett was the ring that his mother had given him.

Emmett's uncle Mose Wright identified J. D. Milam in court as one of Emmett's kidnappers. Other witnesses told the judge that they had heard the voice of a young boy being tortured in a barn. They had seen Milam and Bryant coming out of the barn. They told the court that they had seen blood on Milam's truck.

Bryant and Milam were found not guilty by an all-white jury.