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Emmett Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955)

Emmett Louis Till was born in Chicago. He was 14 and visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi when he spoke to
and flirted with 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, a married proprietor of a small grocery store. Several nights later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam went to Till’s
relative’s house. They abducted Till to a barn, beat him, gouged out an eye, shot him in the head and disposed of his body in the Tallahatchie River weighted down by a cotton gin fan that they tied around his neck. Three days later Till’s body was retrieved from the river. He was returned to Chicago. His mother insisted on an open casket and a public funeral service to show the world the brutality of his murder. Tens of thousands attended the service and photographs of his body were shown in black-oriented magazines and newspapers, rallying for black support and white sympathy. His mother’s decision worked: Till’s murder was a pivotal event that motivated the African-American Civil Rights Movement (during the 1960s), according to historians.

Inexplicably, in September 1955, both Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s murder and abduction, based on the absurd assumption that it was difficult to identify whether it was actually Till. The men were protected under double jeopardy when they later admitted to Look magazine (in 1956) that they did indeed murder Till. In 2004 the U.S. Department of Justice re-opened the Till case and exhumed his body to make a positive identification. (He was reburied in a new casket. This is standard practice in exhumations. His original casket was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.) The body had extensive cranial damage, a broken left femur, two broken wrists and metallic fragments in the skull consistent with being shot with a .45 caliber gun. The body was definitely Emmett Till.

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