In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was visiting his family in Money, Mississippi when he was murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Till lived in an extremely dangerous period for African-Americans in the United States, a time when lynchings and segregation were all too present.
The woman Till was suspected of whistling at was Carolyn Bryant. Her then husband, Roy Bryant, and an acquaintance, J.W. Milam, were charged and acquitted of the murder by an all white jury, even though they had confessed. Till was abducted, shot, maimed, tortured, and thrown into the Mississippi River. When his body was recovered, he was bloated and unrecognizable, but his mother insisted on having an open casket so the world could see what the men did to her son.
Decades later, Timothy Tyson, Duke University senior research scholar and author of The Blood of Emmett Till, had the rare opportunity of interviewing Carolyn Bryant. The book reveals that in 2007, Carolyn admitted to lying about what happened to her.
According to Vanity Fair, Carolyn “confessed that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her testimony. ‘That part’s not true,’ she told Tyson, about her claim that Till had made verbal and physical advances on her. As for the rest of what happened that evening in the country store, she said she couldn’t remember.” Bryant also told Tyson; “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” Till’s murder sparked the modern day Civil Rights Movement.
It makes me, among most others, sick to know that even after the men who killed Till confessed, they were still not convicted. What’s worse is that now, decades later, the woman responsible for escalating the situation admits she lied about what Till did. If Till’s mother were still alive, I could not imagine the pain she would have to endure once again. The fact that a whistle is what got someone murdered is shocking, but in the 1950’s, in the American South, it wasn’t such a shock. As long as I live, I will never forget those pictures of Emmett Till in his casket.
We should remember the young boy who lost his life as a result of an atrocious act of hate. We should remember how far our nation has come, and how much more work there is be done, to end acts of hate and violence. Till’s case serves as a reminder of the reality of racism, how the justice system in the U.S. functions, and the amount of power one person can have over another.
The Blood of Emmett Till releases next week through Simon & Schuster
Featured image courtesy of NBC News