Emmett Till

One of the most heartbreaking stories of racism to receive national media attention was the story of Emmett Till. black history month emmett till

 Emmett was a 14-year-old boy who was brutally killed in 1955.

The reports on what happened prior to the abduction and torture of Emmett seem to be that he was bragging to his friends about his segregated school. Emmett’s friends then dared him to sweet talk the woman in the shop they were in during the conversation. Emmett said something to her (reports are anything from a romantic pass, gesture,  to a compliment).

The owner and husband of the shop and his brother found out and went out hunting for Emmett.

Emmett’s tortured body was later found in the Tallahatchie River.

One of the men who killed him said this in an interview with Look magazine the next year:

“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ‘em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ‘em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.” – J.W. Milam, 1956

Emmett’s family was in the news over the weekend because of a disrespectful lyric in a Lil Wayne song. I agree with his family that disrespecting this important part of our history is hurtful to our society.

I think what strikes me the most about the story is not so much the absolute ignorance and hate which ended this child’s life, but the determination of his mother to make sure people knew what happens in a society which supports racism. Emmett’s mother did something I can only imagine could have been one of the most difficult and bravest choices of her life. She made sure her son had a open-casket at his funeral, so the world would see what racism had done to her boy. 

emmitt till corpse

 Her sacrifice, and her son’s, have been recognized as the start of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.


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4 comments

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  1. Deia@Elle to Elle 15 February, 2013, 07:12

    Such a great post! This story stays ever-present in my mind since I learned about it in high school. Now that I have two little [brown-skinned] boys living in Texas, I sometimes think of this story. Just recently my 2yo was trying to kiss a little white girl in his parents day out class. I low-key freaked out and thought of this story of course. I think that if we were still living in Missouri, I wouldn’t be as anxious. You never know if someone doesn’t want their kid making too friendly with the black kid in the class. Not everyone I have met has been friendly. Anyway, I spoke with the girl’s mom and learned that she thought it was cute since her daughter is overly affectionate at home like my Reid is. I thanked God and told myself to stop worrying. (After all, Texas isn’t Mississippi or Alabama)

    Reply this comment
    • Renee 15 February, 2013, 07:58

      @deia@elle to elle “(After all, Texas isn’t Mississippi or Alabama)” Thanks for proving racism is alive and well. When you throw around Alabama and Mississippi as an example of a place to fear to live in due to racism, all you are doing is showing YOUR pre-conceived racist bent towards white people here. I live in Alabama, but in 2013, not the 1960′s. Racism is racism whether it is directed at a black child or a white woman. I was appalled at the horrific story of Emmett Till, and so proud of his courageous Mother. You should be ashamed for insulting millions of people in Alabama and Mississippi who could not care less the color of someone’s skin. I was with you up until your last sentence displayed YOUR ignorance. Feel free to apologize. There are wonderful people AND jerks EVERYWHERE.

      Reply this comment
  2. Brittany 23 July, 2013, 02:51

    @renee, I’m sorry but denying racism isn’t helping matters any. I’m blonde hair blue eyes very sure I am not racist.

    Recognize your own privilege, and don’t invalidate the realities of the fear people with less racial privilege live with every day. Educate yourself.

    http://www.thetoptens.com/most-racists-states-us/
    http://deadspin.com/5942197/the-five-most-racist-cities-in-america

    Reply this comment
  3. Lori 23 July, 2013, 05:20

    When I was in high school (in small town Texas!) my teacher did a lesson on Emmett Till. I never forgot his story. Thanks for writing about him.

    Reply this comment

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