5. BLACK, BROWN, & WHITE Emmett Till was born and raised in Chicago, and was 14 in 1955 when his uncle invited him to return south to visit relatives in the Mississippi Delta. Emmett’s mother warned him that there was a different way of life there, and to be careful. Emmett wasn’t. One Sunday morning, Emmett, a cousin, and some of his new friends skipped church and went to Bryants Grocery store in Money, Mississippi, to buy candy. Emmett told the boys with him that he attended a school in Chicago where there were some white kids, and said that he even dated a white girl. Emmett went into the store alone, and bought his candy from the 21-year-old white lady behind the counter, who happened to be married to the owner of the store. What Emmett said to her in the store, we’ll never know. When he came out, his cousin asked him if she was good-looking, and Emmett whistled in affirmation. A week later the husband of the cashier, Roy Bryant, along with his brother-in-law, J.W. Milam, went looking for Emmett, abducted him from his uncle’s home, took him to a nearby barn where they tortured and beat him beyond recognition, attached a large cotton gin fan to him, and threw his body into the Tallahatchee River, where it was discovered days later.
Emmett’s mother had the body transported by train to Chicago and insisted on an open-casket funeral, because, as she said, she wanted to “show the world what they did to my son.” Photos of Emmett's mangled corpse were published and they left America sick to its stomach. So, what happened to guys who killed Emmett Till? They were tried before an all-white jury which, in 65 minutes, found them not guilty. One of the jurors bragged that they would have reported the verdict faster were it not for the fact that they took time out to drink sodas. Since you cannot be tried twice for the same crime, these same men admitted only months later in a magazine interview that had indeed murdered Emmett Till. Emmett Till became a martyr for the Civil Rights Movement, and opened the eyes of America to not just the violence that went on in the south, but how the Mississippi Justice system operated. To many, the murder of Emmett Till was the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, as it inspired outrage through songs such as the one you are about to hear.