Emmett Louis Till was born in Chicago, Illinois, at Cook County Hospital, on July 25, 1941, to Mamie and Louis Till. Till traveled to Money, Mississippi in 1955, to spend the summer with his great uncle, Moses Wright, and his relatives. On August 24, 1955, Emmett, age 14, entered the Bryant Grocery & Meat Market in the town of Money, Mississippi. Till exited the store, and shortly thereafter the store owner's wife, Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, exited as well. Upon her exit, Till whistled. The relatives accompanying Emmett knew this whistle from a black male could cause trouble and they left with Till in haste.
On August 28, 1955, at approximately 2:30 a.m., Roy Bryant (the store owner) and his half-brother, J.W. Milam and at least one other person appeared at the house of Till's great uncle looking for the boy who had "done the talking" in Money and abducted the boy from the house. Bryant and Milam brutally beat Emmett Till, took him to the edge of the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head, fastened a large metal fan used for ginning cotton to his neck with barbed wire, and pushed the body into the river.
On August 31, 1955 a naked body presumed and identified to be Till's was found floating in a section of the Tallahatchie River running along the border between Tallahatchie and Leflore Counties. A seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan was tied with barbed wire to his neck and there was extensive trauma to his head.
Emmett's mother, Mamie Till, made the extraordinary decision to leave the casket open at her son's funeral in Chicago, in order to allow the world to see the brutality of the crime perpetrated against her son. Tens of thousands of people viewed Emmett Till's body in a Chicago church for 4 days. Press from around the world published photographs of Emmett's maimed face; and the sheer brutality of his murder became international news that highlighted the violent racism that could be found in Jim Crow South. Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender published photographs of Emmett Till's body outraging African-Americans around the United States.
The trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant began in September of that year in a Mississippi State Court with an all-male, all-white jury, because African-Americans and women were banned from serving. African-American trial spectators were packed in a specific section of the courtroom's balcony; the defendants' families were seen laughing and joking with the prosecution and the jury. Moses Wright did the unthinkable in 1955 Mississippi, as an African-American, he openly accused the white defendants in public court of murdering his nephew. Afterward, Moses Wright had to leave town for his safety, after his actions in court.
J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were acquitted of the murder of Emmett Till, and Bryant celebrated his acquittal with his wife in front of the cameras outside the courthouse. Milam and Bryant candidly confessed their torture and murder of Emmett Till, Milam did so on the record, to Look Magazine for $4,000. Many historians regard the murder of Emmett Till as the true spark of the civil rights movement that launched in the mid-1950's. One-hundred days later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white patron and the modern civil rights revolution began. Parks later said she was thinking of Till at the time.
No other charges were filed against Bryant, Milam, or any other person in connection with Till's kidnapping and murder. Roy Bryant died in 1994, and J.W Milam died in 1981. Mamie Till, who died on January 6, 2003, moved back to Chicago, taught, and continued to talk about her son Emmett's murder; and expressed her wishes for a full Federal investigation.
The FBI's investigation was opened on May 7, 2004, at the request of the District Attorney in Greenwood, Mississippi, in an effort to determine if other individuals were involved.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was reopening the case to determine whether anyone other than Milam and Bryant were involved.
After the FBI's new investigation was concluded in 2006, the Department of Justice determined that no federal jurisdiction existed because the statute of limitations had runout on any potential federal crime applicable to the murder of Emmett Till. The results of the FBI investigation were given to Leflore County District Attorney Joyce Chiles in 2006. On February 22, 2007, Chiles presented evidence to a Laflore County grand jury. The grand jury declined to indict anyone for any criminal charge related to the homicide.
In 2017 historian and author Timothy B. Tyson, revealed that during an interview conducted in 2008 with Carolyn Bryant Donham, that she admitted to lying on the witness stand during the 1955 murder trial. Tyson says Bryant admitted to him that her statement that Till had made verbal and physical advances towards her were false.
The collection contains:
WHITE HOUSE FILES
134 pages of Eisenhower Administration files concerning Emmett Till's death. Some material in this file was not declassified until 2005. Documents include a September 1, 1955 telegram from Mamie Bradley, the mother of Emmett Till, to President Eisenhower. Correspondences between White House officials and the Chicago Defender. Correspondences from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, including the reports, "The Communist Party and the Negro" and Hoover's presentation "Racial Tension and Civil Rights." The files show that the Justice Department and FBI arching concern about the Till case was its possible exploitation by communists.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN NEWSPAPER COVERAGE OF THE EMMETT TILL MURDER
378 Pages of African-American newspaper articles covering the Emmett Till Murders. Newspapers include:
Atlanta Daily World
The Call - Kansas City
Cleveland Call and Post
Saint Louis Argus
FBI INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
A 110 page, February 9, 2006, FBI summary prosecutive report of the investigation concerning the Murder of Emmett Till, that was launched on May 7, 2004.
The names of the deceased subjects are not redacted. The names of two main subjects are redacted. Presumably these are the two subjects in the kidnapping and murder still alive at the time the report was released, Carolyn Holloway Bryant and Henry Lee Loggins.
Report Topics include:
Narrative of the Offense.
Geographic/Societal Points of Interest: Leflore County, Sunflower County, Tallahatchie County, Delta Socioeconomics.
Segregation and Precipitating Events: Segregation and the Mississippi Delta, Negro Law, Brown V. The Board of Education, the Citizen's Councils, Other Significant Events in 1955, the Scene of Events.
Persons Involved: Emmett Louis Till, The Wright Family, The Crawford Family, The Walker Family, The Milam/Bryant Family, Roy Bryant, John William Milam, Leslie F. Milam, Melvin L. Campbell, Elmer O. Kimbrell, Hubert Clark, Levi Collins, Johnny B. Washington, Otha Johnson Jr., Mary "Amanda" "Amandy" Bradley.
Key Locations: Bryant's Grocery & Meat Market, Grover C. Frederick's Farm, Glendora, Mississippi, Clint Shurden Plantation.
Investigation of the Offense: Time Line, Sequence of Events, Movement and Identification of the Body, State of Mississippi vs. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam.
Admissions: Look Magazine, J.W. Milam's Admission, Roy Bryant's Admission, Leslie F. Milam's Death Bed Confession, Leslie F. Milam's Statements to Confidential Source, Carolyn Holloway Bryant Admissions, Lamareus Pilate.
Exhumation & Autopsy of Remains: CT Examination, Forensic Dental Examination, Evidence of Injury, Mitochondrial DNA Examination, Anthropological Examination, Laboratory Results, Ammunition Data, Processing of Evidence, Anatomic Diagnosis, Medical Examiner's Opinion.
EMMETT TILL MURDER TRIAL TRANSCRIPT
354 pages of a 2005 FBI transcription of the Emmett Till murder trial transcript. All copies of transcripts of the 1955 trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were thought to be lost. In May of 2005, the FBI announced that it had recovered a copy, which it verified and transcribed. The last known copy was held by researcher Steve Whitaker, until his basement was flooded in the 1980's.
FBI FILE EXTRACTS
6 pages of extracts from FBI files concerning the Emmett Till murder case. A memo shows the original bad information the FBI had about the Till kidnapping. A memo documents the FBI's decision not to intervene in the case. A memo covers Carolyn Bryant's testimony in the trial.
A CASE STUDY IN SOUTHERN JUSTICE: THE EMMETT TILL CASE
"A Case Study in Southern Justice: The Emmett Till Case" by Hugh Stephen Whitaker, Whitaker's Florida State University master's thesis completed in 1963, became the foundational study of the Emmett Till murder and trial. Whitaker's 218-page study used personal interviews conducted with jurors, members of law enforcement, lawyers, and other people involved with the Till trial. Including Sheriff H.C. Strider and Defense attorneys J. W. Kellum, J. J. Breland, and John W. Whitten. This essay sketches out how the jury's verdict was a foregone conclusion. Interviewees suggest that two black men were purposefully hidden in a local Charleston, Mississippi, jail in order to limit the prosecution's case. The study deeply looks at all social, economic, political, historical and racial aspects that brought Mississippi to where it was at in 1955.
TALLAHATCHIE CIVIL RIGHTS DRIVING TOUR
A modern 15-page guide produced by Tallahatchie County to the locations connected to the Till case, along with excellent concise historical backgrounds.
NAACP COLLECTION EXCERPTS
11 pages of documents collected from the Library of Congress' NAACP Collection. Documents mostly concern Look Magazine's interview in which Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam confess to murdering Emmett Till.
MISSISSIPPI STATE SOVEREIGMTY COMMISSION
768 pages of Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission files, dating from 1958 to 1972. The records provide a strong view of race, politics, and law enforcement in Mississippi. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was the state's official counter civil rights agency from 1956 to 1977. In 1956 the State of Mississippi created the State Sovereignty Commission to monitor the activities of people who challenged Jim Crow segregation laws and those who attempted to expand the number of African-Americans voting in the state.
The commission had 12 appointed members, including the Governor who functioned as commission chairman. The Commission has been accused of using spy tactics, intimidation, false imprisonment, jury tampering and other illegal methods to thwart the activities of civil rights workers during the 1950s, '60s and early '70s. The Commission's files show that investigators made note of the pigmentation, associations, religious beliefs and the personal lives of the individuals that fell under its surveillance. Investigators used informants, many of them black Mississippians.
The commission officially closed in 1977, four years after then Governor Bill Waller vetoed funding for the agency. The Mississippi legislature passed a law ordering the files of the commission to be sealed for fifty years, until the year 2027. A legal battle immediately followed, and the state was ordered in 1998 to release the commission's documents.
These files do not contain direct information regarding the Till murder, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was formed during the year that followed murder of Emmett Till. They contain cursory information regarding several individuals associated with the Till case and a few secondary mentions of the case. The files mostly reflect the Commission's objective of maintaining segregation in Mississippi and keeping African-Americans from voting. The files show attitudes about race and segregation of that era and in that region.
Individuals mentioned in these files include: John Ed Cothran, who was a deputy in Leflore County to Sheriff George Smith. Cothran arrested J. W. Milam on charges of kidnapping Emmett Till and was a witness for the prosecution at the Milam-Bryant murder trial. Harry H. Dogan, who at the time of the Till murder trial was Tallahatchie County's sheriff-elect. Dogan is reputed to have helped in the selection of jurors in the trial. William Bradford Huie, the reporter who paid J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant $3,500 to tell their story after their acquittal. Their confession appeared in an article by Huie in Look magazine in 1956. Curtis M. Swango, the presiding judge at trial of Milam-Bryant for the murder of Emmett Till.
Most of the files relate to the activities of Mississippi Sovereignty Commission in the geographic areas of importance in the Emmett Till Murder case, the Mississippi counties of Leflore, Sunflower, and Tallahatchie. Till was kidnapped in Leflore County, taken by force to Sunflower County, his body was discovered on the border of Tallahatchie and Leflore Counties, and the trial of Milam and Bryant occurred in Tallahatchie County.
TALLAHATCHIE COUNTY COURTHOUSE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORICAL PLACES FILE
United States Department of the Interior National Park Service's file on the addition of the Tallahatchie County Courthouse to the National Register of Historical Places. Includes a history fn the Till case. The Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse is the most intact site in Mississippi related to the Emmett Till murder and trial.
TALLAHATCHIE COUNTY COURTHOUSE MDAH HISTORICAL FILE
Mississippi Department of Archives and History's file on the historical status of the Tallahatchie County Courthouse. Includes letters, newspaper clippings, photographs and information regarding the restoration of the courthouse.