Jill Petersen Dr. Marrone History 09/09/13 Did Emmett Till’s Murder Begin the US Civil Rights Movement in 1955?

He was the sacrificial lamb of the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Louis Till’s murder is one that will never be forgotten in history. The only question I came up with while I was writing this paper is: Is Emmett Till’s murder really what began the civil rights movement or was it just an eye-opener for African Americans to contribute more to the movement? The US Civil Rights Movement is a movement whose goal was to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans. Emmett Till’s murder was a brutal murder which was caused by two Caucasian men just because he whistled at a Caucasian woman and he was African American. I will be scoping how Emmett Till’s murder affected people worldwide and how his death potentially caused more people to join the civil rights movement. The sequence of this paper is from 1955 which is the year Emmett Till was murdered and the year of his trial to 1964 which was when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed that banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Emmett Till was only 14 years old when he was brutally murdered. The murder of Emmett Till was an event which sparked the African American Civil Rights Movement in the US. Emmett Till was an African American boy who was only 14 years old when he was murdered. Emmett was from Chicago so before he went to Mississippi, his mother schooled him on the ways of the South. Emmett Till arrived from Chicago to Money, Mississippi in the summer of 1955 with his cousins to visit his great uncle, Mose Wright. One day, Emmett and his cousins went to Bryant’s store to buy some candy. Emmett Till loved to be the center of attention so when he was dared to whistle to Rob Bryant’s beautiful young wife, Carolyn Bryant, who was a Caucasian woman, he did (Coleman). Carolyn Bryant was so outraged that she ran outside to a car to retrieve a pistol from under the seat. When they saw her do this, the kids left immediately. A few days later, Rob Bryant and JW Milam (both Caucasian) woke the family up early morning and kidnapped Emmett Till. Emmett Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River on the 31st of August which is three days after he disappeared. The two men smashed his face completely, beat his body beyond recognition and the weighed him down the river with a 75 pound cotton gin which they tied around his neck with barbed wire (Nation Mortified By Murder of Kidnaped Chicago Youth). His body was recognized because he was wearing his father’s ring which his mother had given him before he left to Mississippi (Nelson). In September 13, 1955, the whole world watched Emmett Till’s trial. The first source that I looked at was a JSTOR source called “Emmett Till.” It was written by a woman named Wanda Coleman who is a poet. She wasn’t actually involved in the Emmett Till trial but she wrote a short poetic summary about it. The purpose of this poem I feel is to help

people understand what happened to Emmett and how it affected African Americans in the US. It gave an interesting perspective of the case and a good analysis of it but it lacks evidence to support her statements and it’s not very well detailed. The second source I looked at was a film called “The Murder of Emmett Till” which was aired in 2003. It is an American production and it contains stories of people who were there when the Emmett Till case happened like his mother and his cousins. The film gives a vivid detail of what happened and gives reflections of the attitudes at the time. It is a film though, so it could have been manipulated by the director to exclude certain details and it is for commercial use so it might have exaggerated a few scenes to make them more interesting. Emmett Till’s mother had an open casket funeral in Chicago for the world to see what really happened to her son. 1 in 5 people had to be assisted out of the church because the state of Emmett’s body traumatized them. The Northerners saw the way the Southerners controlled their Negroes, they controlled them using fear. There was no way to go against Caucasian people especially in the South. Everything in Mississippi such as drinking fountains and restrooms were segregated and most of the Southerners were convinced that African Americans were happy. More than 500 people were lynched before Emmett Till was killed but his murder was the most brutal and distinctive of all. It was believed that these kinds of things only happened in slave generations so even Caucasian people were shocked. As time went by, the people of Mississippi started raising money for Bryant’s defense team because they could never imagine an African American winning such a case. Overseas and northern journalists were amazed at the situation in Mississippi. Journalists from as far as Paris, Copenhagen and Tokyo came to Mississippi to watch the trial. In Paris, a magazine wrote about how the life of a Negro in Mississippi is worth nothing. It was a major international news story. The murder of Emmett Till stirred the whole nation and made them realize they had to do something and start getting involved (Coleman). His funeral was attended by more than 50,000 people and the people of the North finally started to realize that these things could happen to them too. The story of his murder was the front news for weeks. A picture of his body was shown in an African American magazine and it stirred a public outcry. Emmett Till’s trial only lasted 5 days and it took an hour to come to the decision that Bryant and Milam were innocent. From coast to coast, city halls were packed with African Americans complaining their rights. Emmett Till’s death sent a powerful message and afterwards, contribution to civil rights movements soared. 100 days after his death, Rosa Parks didn’t want to give up her seat to a Caucasian person in the bus and the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. She said that she was thinking about Emmett Till when she came to that decision. Till's murder brought considerations about segregation, law enforcement and relations between the North and South. The murder of Emmett Till was an event which sparked the African American Civil Rights Movement in the US. African Americans boycotted Bryant’s shop out of business and more people from the North and South joined the Civil Rights Movement because they could not allow this to keep on happening. The questions that I came up with when I was writing this were: Why

were African Americans so calm about the situation for so long? Why did they have to wait for something bad to happen to realize that they need their voices to be heard? Why didn’t Caucasians (especially Southern Caucasians) realize that they were acting inhumane? This paper showed me that when given power, some people can be really racist and put the other races down to try to boost their power but really, they’re just putting themselves down.

Bibliography
Coleman, Wanda. "Emmett Till." Callaloo No. 27. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. 295-299. "Nation Mortified By Murder of Kidnaped Chicago Youth." Jet (1955): 6-9. The Murder of Emmett Till. Dir. Stanley Nelson. 2003.