Role of Emmett Till’s Death in Civil Rights Movement

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The reason why Emmett Till's death played such an important role in the Civil Rights Movement was because of Mamie Till's choice (in publicizing )

He didn't die in vain

Even after Bryant and Milam were found not guilty, Mamie didn't give up her fight

She took to the people

Emmetts represented a constant


        During the 1900's segregation and discrimination became very harsh in the United States, especially in the South. Outbursts of terror happened often targeting the black community. A 14 year-old black boy, names Emmett Till, was beaten and brutally murdered by two white men for allegedly whistling at a white women. After his death, his mother, Mamie Till, stood up for not only her son, but for the African American Community in an attempt to stop discrimination as a whole. Beginning with an open casket funeral and then speeches and protests, she began to have a voice in the Black community and the Civil Rights movement. Although Emmett's death is what sparked much attention in the Black community, without Mamie Till's heroism and activism against segregation and persecution the Civil Rights movement would not have become so strong.


                After the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, was passed in 1865, most states adopted Black Codes. These laws limited the freedom that these newly freed slaves had. Soon in 1874, the codes became known as the Jim Crow laws, claiming that Blacks were separate but equal. These laws kept the Blacks from getting the accommodations the Whites had available at their the tips of their fingers. The Jim Crow laws maintained separate public facilities, including schools, bathrooms, seating on buses, and many more. This gained much tension between the two races, leading to much violence.

In  1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established. This interracial association was developed specifically in response to the violence targeting the Black community. It helped to advance the rights and justice of the African Americans. The NAACP soon became known all around the country. In 1917, more than 10,000 New Yorkers silently marched in a protest, organized by the NAACP, against violence towards the Blacks. This was one of the first mass demonstrations against racial segregation.

As a first step towards equal rights, the NAACP aimed to rid segregation laws in public schools. This would soon be named Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, after Linda Brown was denied in an all-white elementary school in Topeka, Kansas. In 1954, the NAACP finally met with the Supreme court and abolished all segregation laws in schools. It was claimed that racial segregation in public educational systems was unconstitutional. However, many schools in the south denied the ruling and remained segregated. Although Brown vs. Board of Education didn't have much effect on the education system, it would eventually lead to the abolishment of many laws enforcing segregation in public facilities. Meanwhile, violence towards the Black community continued and wasn't getting any better. Less than a year later, Emmett Till, a 14 year old African American, was beaten and murdered in Mississippi. Emmett's case was a big turning point in America's struggle with civil rights.

Emmett was traveling down South to Mississippi, where segregation was known to be especially harsh. Before departing, his, mother, Mamie warned Emmett of the intense subjection that the Blacks got in the South. She told him that it was often enforced through murder. Emmett was prepared not to speak, look, or even stand near a white person. However, soon after he arrived, he flirted and whistled at a white store owner, Carolyn Bryant, in her store. Four days later, on August 28, 1955, Emmett was taken from his great-uncle's house by Roy Bryant and JW Milam, the husband and brother-in-law of Carolyn Bryant. He was thrown into the back of their truck, then beaten and shot in a nearby barn. The two men tied a 200 pound iron mill fan to his neck and threw him into the Tallahatchie River. On August 29, the next day, Bryant and milam were charged with the kidnapping and are jailed for suspicion of Emmett's murder.  Willie Reed, a local farm hand, saw Till get put into the truck and later heard the screams coming from the barn. After floating for 3 days, a fisherman found Emmett's body on August 31st. The only way of identifying him was his ring, a ring that had been his father's.   

Mamie was not notified that Emmett had been found in Mississippi until September 1st. Devastated by her son's murder and abuse, she insisted that the burial be in Chicago, where they lived. She would not have her son be buried in the place that killed him. In addition, she demanded that her son be left the way he was and not cleaned. That way, during the funeral the world could see his damaged body in an open casket funeral. The funeral was held on September 3rd, at Chicago's Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago. Thousands of people showed up to see the maimed body. Press published articles about Emmett's murder and funeral. In Jet magazine, a story was published where a photograph of Emmett's body was shown and the full story was told. 

Many African Americans had been lynched in the past, however, their no justice was brought to either side. Emmett's case was the first to go to trial with an all white-jury. On September 23rd, the jury drops Bryant and Milam's charges for murder, resulting in major rallies and demonstrations in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York. After finding information that Louis Till, Emmett's father, had been executed in Europe for raping two women and killing a third, both the murder and kidnapping charges were dropped on November 20th. The jury claimed that this type of behavior must run in the Till family and the two men were set free without any charges and announced innocent. This outraged the Black community nationwide. After all charges were dropped, Milam and Bryant sold their story to a journalist for 4,000 dollars. They claimed they had no intention to kill Emmett, however after he refused to repent, they were forced to kill him. After this confession, the men could not be tried twice for the same crime because they were protected by double jeopardy. However, Mamie would not let her son's death be just another one of the many murdered African American victims.

The verdict sparked much controversy throughout the Black community, leading to many protests and rallies internationally. Magazines and newspapers were publishing Emmett's story and were gaining more and more attention. Letters were sent to the White House protesting the verdict. The NAACP organized mass protests nationwide with Mamie as the featured speaker in each of them.

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Role Of Emmett Till's Death In Civil Rights Movement. (2019, Aug 11). Retrieved July 17, 2024 , from

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