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What Happened to Emmett Till’s Killers?

Many events in American history are smeared with racial discrimination, often ending with injustice towards those who are not white. A good example is the murder of Emmett Till and the fortunate fate of his murderers.

Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old, was brutally killed in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of whistling to a white woman. An all-white, all-male jury acquitted his murderers. The killers later confessed in an interview with Look Magazine.

Emmett Till

Emmett Till was a fourteen-year-old African American born and raised in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago and was known to be a prankster, enjoying practical jokes he pulled on his friends.

Till visited relatives in Money, Mississippi, in August 1955. And while standing outside a country store with his cousins and friends, Till bragged that his girlfriend in Chicago was white. His cousins and friends didn’t believe him and soon dared Till to ask the white woman behind the counter for a date.

Later accounts state that Till went in and bought some candy. He was allegedly heard saying bye baby to the woman behind the counter. The woman was Carolyn Bryant, wife of the store owner.

Bryant’s husband, Roy, was on a business trip and returned a few days later. She soon told him that a black boy grabbed her, making sexual advances, and even wolf-whistled at her. Upon hearing this, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam went to Till’s great uncle’s house on August 28. (Source: History)

Till’s Murder

Bryant and Milam demanded to talk to Till in the early morning of August 28. Till’s great uncle, Mose Wright, pleaded with the two white men. Despite his pleas, Bryant and Milam forced Till into their car.

Bryant and Milam brought Till to Milam’s shed. They proceeded to torture him for several hours and then made Till carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River. They continued to beat him and afterward shot him in the head. Bryant and Milam tied the cotton gin fan to Till’s lifeless body with barbed wire and threw him in the river.

Three days later, Till’s corpse was discovered. It was so disfigured that Wright only identified it as Till from a ring with his initials. Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, requested to have her son’s remains shipped back to Chicago.

Upon seeing how her son was inhumanely murdered, Bradley decided to have an open-casket funeral. She wanted everyone to see what the racist murderers did to her son. An African-American weekly magazine published a photo of Till’s corpse, and soon his story was brought to the public. (Source: History)

The Trial of the Murderers

The trial of Bryant and Milam was soon scheduled in a segregated court in Mississippi. In the trial, a few witnesses positively identified both white men, with Wright as one of them. Soon after, Bryant and Milam were declared not guilty by an all-white, all-male jury. The verdict was reached in less than an hour.

The jury argued that they believed the state had failed to prove the identity of the body. (Source: History)

The Confession of the Murderers

About four months after the trial, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam agreed on an interview with Look Magazine but demanded a $4,000 fee. The two admitted to abducting, torturing, and murdering Till. Both men were confident in their account of the murder, stating so that everybody could know how me and my folks stand.

Both Bryant and Milam lived the remainder of their lives as free men, dying of old age. (Source: The Guardian)

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