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The Murder of Emmett Till

Length: 5:02


Page Summary:

The courage and conviction of Emmett Till's mother opened the eyes of a nation to hidden injustice. Do we share her courage?

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Video Text/Dialogue:

On August 24, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till made the fatal mistake of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi.

A few nights later, he was abducted from his grandfather's house at gunpoint.

When Emmett's body was discovered in a river three days later, he could no longer be recognized.

Emmett had been stripped naked and tied to a 70-pound cotton gin fan—with barbed wire.

His tongue had been cut out and his genitals cut off.

All but two of his teeth were gone.

One eye was missing. The other hung from its socket.

The top of Emmett's head had been split down the middle.

The bridge of his nose looked to have been struck with a meat cleaver.

One ear was missing from having been shot through the head.

The ring on Emmett's finger was the only thing left to ID his body.

The local sheriff pushed for an immediate burial because he didn't want anyone to see what had happened to Emmett Till.

But Emmett's mother rallied state officials to demand the body’s return to Chicago.

The funeral had already begun when the order to halt the burial finally came through.

Emmett's body was shipped home in a sealed casket, and the funeral director was prohibited from opening it.

He only did so when Emmett's mother prepared to remove the lid herself.

Once opened, the odor of Emmett's decaying body could be smelled up to three blocks away.

When the funeral director learned that Emmett's mother wanted an open-casket memorial, he asked her if he should try to do something to "fix up" Emmett's face.

She responded: "No, let the people see what I've seen… there is no way I can tell this story… I want the whole world to see what they did to my boy."

On September 23, 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted of murdering Emmett Till.

In November, they were acquitted of kidnapping as well.

Two months later, they sold their story to a reporter and confessed to both crimes. Neither man spent a day in jail.

But despite the farce of a trial in Mississippi, Jet magazine ran pictures of what those men did, and the world saw what happened.

"The easiest thing would have be to say, 'No, close the casket, I can't bear it.' But she, somewhere, found the strength to say, 'I'll bear my pain to save some other mother from having to go through this. And because she put the picture of this young man's body on the conscience of America, she might have saved thousands of young black men and young black women's lives. People can sort of deal with things they don't have to look at, but it's hard to view a corpse and turn your head. And it was like, in your face, you're going to deal with this this time. And that's why generations unborn owe Ms. Mobley a lot, because she was able to graphically bring home what a thousand speeches could't bring home."—Rev. Al Sharpton

The murder of Emmett Till has rightly been called, "one of the most barbaric atrocities committed against a child in the history of mankind." But if it wasn't for the decision to unseal Emmett's coffin, the world would have never known.

So think about Emmett Till and his mother the next time you condemn someone for showing you what abortion does to the most helpless members of the human community.

Aborted children share a common fate with Emmett Till. Do we share the courage of Emmett’s mother, or will we continue to leave the casket sealed?


The film and video footage used in this presentation was obtained from THINKFilm's documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, © 2005. It is used in accordance with the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.

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