On August 28, 1955, 14-year old Emmett Till was kidnapped in the middle of the night from his uncle’s home near Money, Mississippi. Till, a black youth from Chicago who was visiting family in the South, had been accused of whistling at a white woman in Money. At least two men, one from Leflore and one from Tallahatchie County, took Emmett in the night, murdered him, and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River. His badly abused body was found days later in nearby Tallahatchie County.
In September, a grand jury in Sumner Mississippi, indicted Roy Bryant and JW Milam for the crime of murder. An all-white, all-male jury later acquitted the two men of this charge—after a deliberation of just over an hour. Within four months of their acquittal, Bryant and Milam had confessed to the kidnapping and murder.
Before the trial began, Till’s mother had sought assistance from federal officials—under the terms of the so-called “Lindbergh Law” (which made kidnapping a federal crime) – but received no aid. Only a renewed request in December 2002 from Till’s mother, supported by Mississippi District Attorney Joyce Chiles and the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, yielded a new investigation.
The Till murder was an international news event; at his funeral in Chicago, thousands of mourners viewed the abused body. His mother’s courage to show “the world what had been done to her boy” was a catalyst for the modern civil rights movement. Not only did Moses Wright, Till’s uncle, bravely testify against Till’s murderers, but his heroism and that of other witnesses would later inspire Rosa Parks, who—just a few months after the trial—refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. The young people who would compose many of the grassroots organizations during the civil rights movement were called the “Emmett Till Generation.”
Out of the community’s work to wrestle with its history grew the multiracial Emmett Till Memorial Commission and eventually the restoration of the Sumner Courthouse, where the trial was held, and the Emmett Till Interpretative Center in Sumner. In Glendora, the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center museum is housed in the old Glendora Gin, a site associate with Emmett Till’s murder.