Till, Emmett, Lynching of

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TILL, EMMETT, LYNCHING OF. Emmett Louis Till was murdered in the Mississippi Delta on 28 August 1955, making the fourteen-year-old Chicagoan the best-known young victim of racial violence in the nation's history.

Visiting relatives shortly before he would have started the eighth grade, Till entered a store in Money, in Leflore County, and as a prank behaved suggestively toward Carolyn Bryant, the twenty-one-year-old wife of the absent owner, Roy Bryant. This breach of racial etiquette soon provoked Bryant and his half brother, J. W. Milam, to abduct Till from his relatives' home, pistol-whip and then murder him, and finally to dump the corpse into the Tallahatchie River. Bryant and Milam were prosecuted in the early autumn. Despite forthright testimony by the victim's mother, Mamie Till, a jury of twelve white men quickly acquitted the defendants. The verdict was widely condemned even in the southern white press, and more sharply in the black press and the foreign press. The brutality inflicted upon a guileless teenager exposed the precarious condition that blacks faced—especially in the rural South—as did no other episode. Such violence in defense of racial supremacy and white womanhood helped to inspire the civil rights movement in the early 1960s.


Whitfield, Stephen J. A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Stephen J.Whitfield

See alsoLynching .