Emmett Till was beaten, shot, and dumped in Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River in August 1955. According to reports, the 14-year-old black teen was abducted and killed because he was caught flirting with a white woman. In recent months, memorials, including a sign marking where the teen’s body was discovered, were found vandalized and riddled with bullet holes. In stark contrast, a sign commemorating one of his confessed killers remains intact and “is embellished with flowers.”
Born in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, Emmett Louis Till was raised by a single mother after his father was killed during WWII. However, as reported by PBS, the boy had a large family and was always “surrounded by relatives and grandparents.”
Although he was stricken with polio at the age of five, Emmett survived the devastating illness with only a slight stutter.
According to his friends and family, Till was a happy boy, who enjoyed telling jokes, listening to rock and roll music, dancing, and helping his mother around the house.
— Change.org (@Change) October 15, 2016
In the summer of 1955, Emmett was invited to spend time with his mother’s family in Money, Mississippi. Mamie Till was reluctant, but eventually granted her son permission to take the trip. Prior to the teen’s departure, his mother gave him one of her most prized possessions, which was his late father’s signet ring.
Emmett’s trip was uneventful, and he arrived at his great-uncle’s home on August 21. By all accounts, the teen was having a great time getting to know his extended family and making new friends.
Three days after he arrived in Mississippi, Emmett Till skipped church to go to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market with his cousins and a few of his new friends.
According to witness reports, the teens entered the store, purchased some candy, and left. However, Carolyn Bryant, who owned the store with her husband Roy, claimed Emmett behaved inappropriately, and she was frightened for her personal safety.
Although the circumstances remain unclear, some witnesses reported Emmett whistled at the white woman as he was leaving the store. Carolyn, however, told her husband that the teen grabbed her arm while making inappropriate remarks.
Four days after the incident occurred, Emmett Till was abducted from his great-uncle’s home by Roy Bryant and Roy’s half-brother, John William “J. W.” Milam.
According to Bryant and Milam’s confessions, which were originally published in the January 1956 issue of Look magazine, the men began by whipping the teen in the head with a 45 caliber pistol. They then forced him to remove his clothing before placing the gun against his right ear and shooting him dead.
Roy Bryant and John William “J. W.” Milam secured a cotton gin fan to Emmett Till’s neck with barbed wire and dumped his corpse into the river before fleeing the scene. According to reports, the men burned the teen’s clothing in a bonfire.
Emmett Till’s body was found by two fishermen on August 31. Although he was severely disfigured in the attack, the teen was identified by a family member who recognized his father’s signet ring. Bryant and Milam were subsequently arrested and charged with the teen’s kidnapping and death.
Despite the fact that witnesses saw the men taking Emmett from his great-uncle’s home, and the fact that they confessed, Roy Bryant and John William “J. W.” Milam were found not guilty.
Emmett Till’s brutal death and the outcome of the subsequent trial are grim reminders of the racism that has plagued the United States for centuries.
In 2007, Mississippi’s Emmett Till Memorial Commission erected eight signs throughout the region to commemorate the teen. Unfortunately, the signs have been vandalized or stolen numerous times. One sign in particular, which is at the site where the teen’s body was found, is riddled with bullet holes.
— Colossill (@ColossILL) October 20, 2016
In stark contrast, a sign outside the former home of John William “J. W.” Milam remains well-preserved. As reported by Slate, the sign commemorating one of Emmett’s attackers is surrounded by a raised flower bed and does not appear to be in disrepair.
It is unclear why the Emmett Till memorial signs have been targeted by vandals. However, representatives from the Emmett Till Memorial Commission said they have replaced the signs numerous times and will continue to do so.
[Featured Image by Rogelio Solis/ AP Images]