The Brutal, Horrific Story of Emmett Till’s Murder

After being accused of whistling at a white female grocery store cashier, Carolyn Bryant, the young Emmett Till was brutally murdered by Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law in August of 1955. At the time, Till was only fourteen years old and he had been visiting relatives, away from his mother. Even though they beat the young boy and shot him in the head, the men were acquitted and actually confessed to the murder later on.

emmett till


On July 25, 1941, Emmett Louis Till was born to Louis and Mamie Till in Chicago, Illinois. Louis Till had been a private in World War II and him and Mamie were separated in 1942. A few years later, they found out that he had been  serving in Italy when he was executed for “willful misconduct”. Mamie Till was the the fourth black student to graduate from Argo Community High School, a predominantly white suburban school in Chicago. On top of that, she was the first black student at the school to make the “A” Honor Roll. Mamie worked long hours everyday as a clerk in charge of confidential information and files for the Air Force.

Emmett grew up in a middle-class black neighborhood in Chicago. His friends and those he knew around town described him as being a responsible, funny, and very high spirited child. At five years old, young Emmett became ill with polio, and he made an almost full recovery, just left with a small stutter. And since his mother worked over 12 hours every day, Till took over the household responsibilities. “I mean everything was really on his shoulders, and Emmett took it upon himself. He told me if i could work, make the money, he would take care of everything else. He cleaned, and he cooked quite a bit. And he even took over the laundry,” Mamie Till said later on about her son.

Moses Wright, Emmett’s great uncle, came to visit them in Chicago from Mississippi in August of 1955. Wright had already planned to take Till’s cousin to Mississippi with him to see some relatives in the south at that point. Till heard about these plans and begged his mother to let him go too. While Mamie had been reluctant to let her son go on the trip, she eventually gave in. Mamie herself had wanted to go on a roadtrip with Emmett to Omaha, Nebraska. Till desperately begged her to let him go though.

The day before Emmett would leave with his uncle and cousin to Mississippi, his mother gave him his father’s signet ring. The ring had his initials, L.T., engraved into them. On August 20, 1955, she took Emmett to the station in Chicago and kissed him goodbye before he boarded the train. That was the last time Till would ever see his mother, and Mamie her son.

On August 24, 1955, Till had already been in Money, Mississippi for three days. Along with a group of local teenagers, the fourteen year old went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. There, they were planning to buy refreshments, having been working all day picking cotton. It is not quite clear what happened that afternoon at the grocery store, but in the end, Carolyn Bryant accused Till of whistling at and advancing on her. Bryant was the wife of the store’s owner and a cashier.

Only four days later, Till was sleeping at his uncle’s home when he was kidnapped at about 2:30 a.m. His kidnappers were Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant, and J.W Milman, his half brother. The men brutally beat the young boy before dragging him to the Tallahatchie River and shooting him in the head. They then tied him to a large metal fan with barbed wire and pushed him into the river, his body so mutilated and beyond recognition.

As soon as he found out, Moses Wright reported his nephew’s disappearance to the authorities. It took them three days to find Emmett Till’s body in the river. He was not even recognizable and Wright was only able to identify him by the ring he wore with his father’s initials.

With his body water-soaked and defaced, most people would have kept the casket covered. [His mother] let the body be exposed. More than 100,000 people saw his body lying in that casket here in Chicago. That must have been at that time the largest single civil rights demonstration in American history.” – Jesse Jackson

Mamie Till decided to have an open-casket funeral for her son when his body was shipped back to Chicago. She also decided to keep his body on display for five days. This was to “let the world see what has happened, because there is no way I could describe this. And I needed somebody to help me tell what it was like.” His funeral was held at the Roberts Temple Church of God and thousands came to see the body, the evidence for the brutal crime.


Mamie Till at her son’s funeral. Source:

On September 19, 1955, the trial for Bryant and Milman began. Many all over the country had been outraged when they heard of what happened to the young fourteen year old. But, at the time, only white males were allowed to serve on jury duty. Even with all the overwhelming evidence and the fact that Moses Wright got up in court to identify Bryant and milam as Emmett’s murderers, which was very rare for blacks to do at the time, the men were acquitted on September 23. Not even a few months later, the two men even admitted to murdering the boy, yet they got away with it anyway.

Then, over sixty years after Emmett Till’s brutal murder, it was revealed that Carolyn Bryant had lied about Emmett by Timothy Tyson in January of 2017. She had lied about him whistling at and making advances on her, and that very lie led to his death.