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In 1955, a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi. The white men who murdered him killed him for being Black. Emmett Till's mother chose to have an open casket funeral, and show the world what had been done to her son. Despite the killers being acquitted in court, the story of Emmett Till and the jarring images of his funeral shocked the nation and were a vital catalyst in turning the civil rights movement into a nationwide phenomenon.

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Timothy B. Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018).
Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (University of California Press, 2007).
Onwuachi-Willig, Angela. “The Trauma of the Routine: Lessons on Cultural Trauma from the Emmett Till Verdict.” Sociological Theory 34, no. 4 (December 2016): 335–57.'s%20murder%20became%20a%20rallying,African%20American%20History%20and%20Culture.

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CC Kids:
Hi, I'm Clint Smith and this is CrashCourse Black American history. The 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy visiting his family in Money, Mississippi was one of the most important catalysts of the civil rights movement.
A heads up that this episode is going to include some violent descriptions and images but we think it's important to do so so that you can more fully understand what prompted so many Black Americans to mobilise and risk their lives in the pursuit of civil rights. These descriptions of violence also demonstrate how the threat of being subjected to domestic white supremacist terror, hung over Black people in the South like a cloud that just wouldn't go away. Let's learn more about what happened to Emmett Till and start the show.
In August of 1955, Emmett, who lived in Chicago, was visiting his uncle and cousins in Money, Mississippi. Emmett and a group of teenagers went shopping at a local store called Bryant's grocery and meat market. This store, owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant, sold items to mostly black sharecroppers and their families. Some kids, who were outside of the store, later stated that they heard Emmett whistle at Carolyn. Later, Carolyn Bryant accused Emmett of making a sexual remark toward her and of grabbing her. And as we'll get to soon, this was a lie. 
A few days later, in the middle of the night, on August 28th, Roy Bryant - Carolyn's husband - and his half brother J. W. Milam, kidnapped Emmett from the home of his uncle Mose Wright. Emmett's cousins witnessed the kidnapping. Emmett Till was then brutally beaten by Roy Bryant and several other members of the white community. He was taken to the edge of the Tallahatchie River, shot in the head, tied to a 75-pound metal fan that weighed his body down, and then dropped to the bottom of the water. 
Three days later, his body was pulled from the water. He was so badly beaten and decomposed, that his family could only identify him but the ring on his finger.
Following the murder, Emmett Till's body was shipped back to his family in Chicago. His mother, Mamie Till, while emotionally distraught, made a decision that would reverberate throughout history. She decided that her son should have an open-casket funeral. As she put it: "Let the people see what they did to my boy.". Emmett's body was on display for five days at Roberts Temple Church of God. Tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects and to see in person the evidence of the violence inflicted on this child. But what made the name Emmett Till iconic was a powerful and devastating photograph that was taken by David Jackson, which captured Mamie Till gazing down at her son's ravaged and deformed body. The image is haunting, and what these men had done to Emmett's face, was horrifying. The photo, along with others, were published in Jet magazine and the images of Till's deformed face alongside images of him before his death, smiling and looking like the child that he was, forced people to confront the terror that black people in the South had been subjected to for a century. Mamie Till would say: "I believe that the whole United States is mourning with me. And if the death of my son can mean something to the other unfortunate people all over the world, then for him to have died a hero would mean more to me than for him just to have died."
This seems like an important moment to acknowledge why black-led media outlets, like Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender, both of which were based out of Chicago, are so important to telling and understanding the story of black life in this country.
These outlets told the sorts of stories that other outlets weren't always willing to. And during the civil rights movement, they would play an enormous role in sharing the news about marches and covering the violence that protesters experienced. Today, the original Jet magazine with the published photos of Emmett Till can now be found at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American history and culture. 
But back to the murder itself. 
So in early September, the governor of Mississippi, High White, ordered officials to prosecute Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam in the case.
Now, let's pause here. In previous episodes, we've learnt about important legal victories for black Americans at the federal level. But the state and local courts were often a different story. To put it mildly, this court case was a sham. But, unfortunately, it was not atypical. Rarely were lynchings and brutal murders like this actually prosecuted with real justice. And people knew that. White people knew that throughout the South they could kill a black person and get away with it, which is how so many thousands of black people came to be lynched in the century following the civil war. And this terror was intentional. As Sherylin Ifill writes in her book, On the courthouse lawn: Confronting the legacy of lynching in the 21st venture, "More than the poll tax, the grandfather clause, and Jim Crow segregation, lynching and the threat of lynching helped regulate and restrict all aspects of black advancement, independence, and citizenship."
On September 19th 1955, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were tried in Sumner, Mississippi. An all-white jury was selected and no black jurors were even considered. In the trial, plenty of testimony and evidence showed that Milam and Bryant did kill Emmett Till. Even Emmett's uncle testified that he saw him kidnapped and pointed out who did it. But it didn't matter. And Emmett's uncle was even run out of town for telling the truth. The jury deliberated, and after one hour and seven minutes, they ruled that Milam and Bryant weren't guilty. The black community in Mississippi, and across the country, was devastated by this outcome. But, they weren't surprised.
And if the not guilty verdict wasn't enough on its own, in January 1956, Bryant and Milam admitted to committing the murder. Like, they just said it. Directly. With no equivocation. They did this because they were protected by double jeopardy - the idea that one cannot be tried for the same crime twice - and since they were already found not guilty in a previous trial, they could not be prosecuted by the legal system. All of this happened after Brown v. Board of education, which has led many scholars to say that this event was an example of the hostility that many white people in the south had towards that ruling and towards the emerging civil rights movement.
After the trial, many other publications around the world picked up the story as well. These articles explicitly addressed the hypocrisy of American ideas of justice, independence and freedom. Part of what I think about when I think about the murder of Emmett Till, is how recent this history is.
A few years ago, I was walking through the National Museum of African American history and culture with my grandparents. And in the museum is an exhibit that holds the casket that Emmett Till was originally buried in. I was pushing my grandfather, a man born in 1930 Jim Crow Mississippi, in a wheelchair as we entered the room. We approached Emmett's casket, its bronze hue radiating under the museum lights. It sat open, exposing us to a photograph of what Emmett's mother, who, remember, insisted on an open-casket funeral, had chosen to show what white supremacy had done to her son. I had seen images of it before and did not need to listen to anything other than the soft buzzing light above us to know of Mamie Till's unceasing sobs. My grandfather looked at the casket, his eyes moving unhurriedly across its frame and said "He was killed in the next town over from where your grandmother and I lived. Only a few miles away".
As you know, I think about the history of racism in this country all the time. I think about how quickly we are to espouse notions of progress without accounting for its uncertain and serpentine path. I think of how decades of racial violence shape everything we see, but, sometimes, I can forget its impact on those right next to me. I sometimes forget that, but for the arbitrary nature of circumstance, what happened to Emmett Till, could have happened to my grandfather. 
Emmett Till was born in 1941, if he were alive today, as of the recording of this video, he would be 80 years old. This is important, to understand that he could have very easily still been alive today. Going to the grocery store, picking up his mail from the post office, waving hello to his neighbours, or going to his grandchildren's soccer games. The possibilities of growing old were stolen from him, as they have been stolen from the thousands of black people lynched across the 20th century.
Sometimes, we tell ourselves that the most nefarious displays of racial violence happened a long time ago, when they were, in fact, not so long ago at all. These images and videos that appal our 21st-century sensibilities are filled with people who are still among us today.
I think often of Ruth Bonner, the woman who rang the bell to signal the opening of the National Museum of African American history and Culture in 2016, and how she was the daughter of a man born into slavery. Not the granddaughter. Not the great-grandaughter. She was the daughter of someone born into slavery. None of this was that long ago. 
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