Emmett Louis Till would have celebrated his 78th birthday last month possibly surrounded by children, grandchildren and other family members who could have reflected on his life and accomplishments. Instead, his name is frozen in time as an adolescent, synonymous with Jim Crow and the disturbing photo from his lynching that was a major catalyst for the civil rights movement. Sixty-four years after his death, justice for Till is far from attained.
“We won’t’ stop. There will be another sign up,” Rev. Willie Williams, treasurer of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, told CNN in July. “This particular area will go forward in the long run. Because this legacy and this story, it’s much bigger than any of us.”
In July, a viral picture showed three white college students posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled sign; the sign that marked the spot where Till’s body was found decades earlier. It was reported that the students attended Ole Miss and were members of a fraternity, but it was not confirmed whether they were the ones who shot the sign. The men are now under federal investigation.
By now, the heartbreaking story of what happened in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 has become part myth and a whole American tragedy. A native of Chicago, 14-year-old Till was in the town of Money visiting family when he had the misfortune of walking into a store owned by Carolyn and Roy Bryant. Claiming Till made advancements toward his wife, Roy, along with J.W. Milam, kidnapped the teenager, tortured him and discarded his remains in the Tallahatchie River.
They would later be acquitted in a court of law. Mamie Till Mobley, Till’s mother, decided to have an open casket funeral to show the world her son’s unrecognizable and brutalized face, which would haunt generations to come.
And while it was long suspected the lynching was conducted under the falsest of pretenses, that suspicion hasn’t prevented white supremacists from kicking dirt on his name in death.
In 2007, the first sign marking where Till’s body was found was erected was stolen shortly after, according to Smithsonian.com. The later two replacement signs were regular targets of bullets, prompting the Emmett Till Memorial Commission to announce the creation of a bulletproof sign.
A development bigger than a bullet-stricken sign came to light a few years ago. In 2017, Carolyn told historian Timothy Tyson that she lied about Till making advances toward her. Well into her old age, her admission came decades after her husband and Milam’s acquittal and subsequent admission to their part in Till’s death. After the Department of Justice announced it was reopening the Till case last year, many began calling for the arrest of the elderly woman.
“We are demanding justice and an apology for the lie of Carolyn Bryant,” activist Duvalier Malone, who led a rally in Till’s honor after Carolyn’s confession, said in a statement this week. “We have read legal opinions and opinions of many in the public that said no charges can happen. They also go on to say that the statute of limitations has run out. Today, we say where is justice for Emmett Till? We demand it. We want it. But, we just don’t want a conviction, we want an apology.”