This week in history: Emmett Till’s murderers charged as body laid to rest

The 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was murdered by two white men in Misissippi was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery on the same day his murderers were charged.

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The grave marker for Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip. His lynching was a tipping point for the civil rights moment.

The grave marker for Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip. His lynching was a tipping point for the civil rights moment.


As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Just three days after Emmett Till’s unforgettable funeral — in which his mother insisted on an open casket displaying her son’s mutilated body — Chicagoans hoping for some form of justice received good, perhaps even unexpected news.

Mississippi authorities charged two white men in the slaying of the 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago’s South Side on Sept. 6, 1955.

Till had been visiting his uncle in the state that summer when he allegedly whistled at a white woman in a shop in the town of Money (the woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, recanted some of her accusations in 2007). On Aug. 28, 1955, Roy Bryant, the white woman’s husband, and his half-brother, John W. Milam, kidnapped Till and murdered him, dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River.

According to a letter to the Chicago Daily News editors published on Sept. 3, 1955, Till’s killing was the third murder in the state “since Mississippi returned to violence and intimidation in its hope to evade the mandate of the Supreme Court outlawing school segregation.”

Three days later, the Daily News informed readers that a grand jury indicted the two men for Till’s murder.

“The 18-man grand jury said in its indictment that Bryant and Milam ‘did unlawfully, willfully and feloniously and of their malice aforethought kill and murder Emmett Till, a human being,’” the paper reported. “Under Mississippi law, a conviction of murder can lead to the gas chamber.”

Though Till’s body had been recovered in Tallahatchie County, where Bryant and Milam were indicted, the boy’s uncle lived in Leflore County, where the kidnapping would have happened. The district attorney there told reporters that he would prosecute the men for the kidnapping charge, which also carried a punishment of death if convicted. That charge would go to the Leflore grand jury later in November.

At the time, the half-brothers admitted to “taking the boy from Wright’s home but insist they later released him,” the paper said.

On that same day back in Chicago, over 200 people “watched and wept” at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, as Till’s body was buried, the paper reported. The burial had been delayed as his mother Mamie Till-Mobley insisted on the open casket at the funeral so others could “see what they did to my boy.”

Some Mississippi officials believed that “no positive identification of the body can be made,” the paper said, but Bradley, along with other family members, pointed to a ring found on the body, which had belonged to Till.

“His mother became hysterical as the casket was lowered into the ground.”

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