August 28th, 1955

Emmett Till, 14-year-old Chicago Youth, Abducted and Murdered in Mississippi Delta

On August 20, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till boarded a train in Chicago, Illinois, headed for Money, Mississippi, to spend two weeks with his great-uncle and cousins. A few days into his visit, Till and a group of friends went into a nearby store to buy candy. While there, Till allegedly acted “familiar” when speaking to the white female storekeeper, Carolyn Bryant. This was a dangerous transgression in the racial caste system of the Mississippi Delta, a system of which Chicago-bred Emmett Till was largely unaware. Within a few days, word of the interaction reached Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Roy.

On August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, abducted Emmett Till at gunpoint from his great-uncle’s home and drove him to a storage shed on Milam’s property in Drew, Mississippi. Each man took turns torturing and beating Till with a pistol, then took the battered boy to a nearby ginning company and forced him to load a 74-pound fan into the back of their pick-up truck. The men then drove Till to the edge of the Tallahatchie River, ordered him to remove his clothes, and shot him in the head. Bryant and Milam then attached the heavy fan to the child's neck and rolled his body into the river.

On August 31, 1955, Emmett Till’s corpse was discovered by two young boys. Devastated by her son’s brutal murder and badly disfigured body, Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, defiantly held an open-casket funeral in Chicago, where thousands gazed in horror at his mutilated body. To show the world the fate that had befallen Emmett, Mrs. Bradley also distributed a photograph of his corpse for publication in newspapers and magazines, later explaining that “the whole nation had to bear witness to this.”

(Emmett Till with his mother before he left for Mississippi, 1955. Library of Congress.)