Guest Author - Lorraine E. Chavis
In 1955 Emmet Till was a 14-year-old young man from Chicago who like many northern blacks visited family down south for the summer. But, unlike many northern blacks Till would never return home to the loving embrace of his mother, Mamie Till.
In 1955, Till was murdered in Mississippi by Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J. W. Milam. They accused Till of whistling at Bryant’s wife. According to Till’s mother her son had a speech impediment, he stuttered. Till was told to whistle if he was having difficulty speaking.
The whistle cost Till his life. He was kidnapped, beat, shot and thrown in the Tallahatchie River. Three days latter the 14-year-old’s badly decomposed body was found. That day the story ceased to be about what he did, it became about what the United States of America as a nation could do about seeing that this never happens again.
The day Till was murdered was the day that crystallize the American civil rights movement. News of the murder reached across the Atlantic and people of various ethnicities, cultural backgrounds and economic levels were outraged.
Till’s mother refused to let the senseless murder of her son go unseen and unpunished. She decided to have an open casket funeral for her son to show the torture that Bryant and Milam inflicted on her son. This decision sparked controversy and it put the United States under a world microscope.
The US government was embarrassed to say the least and the civil rights movement gained momentum and new members. It was no longer a movement for blacks in America, but it became a movement for Americans who wanted more for their country. Even though there were witnesses that saw Bryant and Milam kidnap Till they were acquitted of the kidnapping and murder charges and freed. Worldwide the papers call the acquittal a scandal, but on the home front the civil rights movement was going full steam.
Forced labor, purchased people, exploited nations; these three phrases could be the beginning of any novel, newspaper article or history text in any country in the world. It would problematic to try to pin the offenses on any one group. It would be equally problematic for any one group to claim all of the victimization. But, in the face of these problematic natures there is a story that stood out and tugged the heart strings of many nations and many people and that is the story of Emmet Till a 14-year-old who wanted to have fun with his cousins in south.