close window to go back to timeline

August 28, 1955: Emmett Till Murdered   go to audio


Till, a Chicago youth visiting Mississippi relatives for the summer, was killed by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milan in Money, MS. The two took Till from the home of his elderly uncle under the pretense of teaching him a lesson for whistling at a white woman (Bryant's wife), a violation of one of the segregated South's sacred taboos. Bryant and Milan apparently took the youth to a nearby barn where they beat him mercilessly. They then shot him several times, tied him to the fan of an old cotton gin, and dumped him into the Tallahatchie River. This brutal killing brought national and international attention to the Magnolia state. Despite this coverage and the overwhelming evidence against them, the jury pronounced the murderers "NOT GUILTY." Rather than retarding the movement, this incident helped to galvanize black Mississippians into action.

SEE ALSO: violence; assassination of Medgar Evers;


audio Click on the play button to hear the following excerpt.          
                                                                                                                                Total time: 1 minute, 11 seconds

....but I heard that he passed by this store, him and some more boys. They passed by a white store. And they accused him, the owner of the store accused [him] of whistling at his wife. And that night, they went in, to take him from his grandparents. And they was screaming and hollering and asking, begging them not to take him. And they just took him by force, and carried him out and [brutally] murdered him. Just every part they could cut off of him, they did that. And I was just so filled up with that and other things that they had been so brutal to our black people. And when that evening came, I went back to the field. I was picking cotton, and I just fell down on my sack, and I asked the Lord, "Why? Why it have to happen to us all the time? We have to take this brutality. We haven't did anything. Why?"

--Bea Jenkins, civil rights activist who worked for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
She grew up in Sardis, Durant, and Lexington, Mississippi.


audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.         
                                                                                                                            Total time: 1 minute, 29 seconds

Well, you got more than one version. Of course, you had the Mississippi version of it, and then you had the New York Times version of it. And of course, they wasn't anything alike. But emotions ran high. As we understood it, Till was in the civil rights movement, and that irritated a lot of people, especially if he was a black from Chicago. That irritated to no end a lot of rednecks in Mississippi. As I understood it, he was considered a smart aleck and that being black didn't help. So he ran into a bunch of rednecks or illiterates or whatever you want to call them, that their emotions ran high enough to get them in trouble. But the average Mississippians would more or less let the law take care of that.

-- Buck Wells, white Hattiesburg native who witnessed the civil rights movement from the perspective of a segregationist (vol. 694)