More Than 60 Years After His Brutal Murder, Emmett Till Deserves Justice

Sixty-three years ago, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley made the unbearably painful decision to have an open coffin funeral for her 14-year-old son Emmett. On Aug. 28, 1955, Emmett was tortured and murdered by white men in Mississippi for allegedly acting disrespectfully toward a white woman. 

The sight of Emmett’s body, mutilated beyond recognition, spread throughout the world in photographs published in Jet Magazine and other outlets. The shocking sight so outraged people in the United States and in other countries that it helped spark the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. That outrage did nothing to assure accountability for Till’s death — no one was ever found guilty in spite of confessions in Look Magazine by one of the murderers. 

In July, the United States Department of Justice announced that an investigation of Emmett Till’s lynching will be reopened. Skepticism about the motives of the administration and the fact that such an investigation is decades late does not change the fact that a new, credible investigation is sorely needed as a necessary examination of the inexcusable racism that existed in 1955 and, sadly, persists today.

Till’s murder was not the aberrational act of two men whose behavior fell outside of the norms of society. It was instead just one of a long series of examples of racial violence perpetrated in the name of preserving white supremacy and protecting white women from black men. Given the accusation that Till had wolf-whistled at the white wife of one of the murderers, it was not surprising that violence would result in 1955 Mississippi. Nor was it a surprise that an all-white, all-male jury would refuse to hold the white defendants responsible for the murder despite clear and convincing evidence of their guilt. 

But the two defendants weren’t the only ones who were not held accountable. There was no accountability for the white woman who admitted decades later that she had lied under oath when she testified that Till had made sexual overtures to her. There was no accountability for the jury who ignored the testimony of Till’s uncle who described the men entering his house to search for and abduct the boy. 

There was no accountability for a community that controlled the behavior of its Black citizens and their ability to exist in public spaces by fear and violence. And, ultimately, there was no accountability for a nation that had permitted the injustices of slavery to continue to manifest themselves long after the practice was ended by the 13th Amendment.

So it is not too late to seek truthful answers that for so long eluded Emmett Till and his family. But it is important that the investigation is placed in a clear context. Although the murder occurred more than 60 years ago, the reopening of the Till case matters as we continue to confront racism in all its insidiousness.

In a time when we are confronted routinely with reports of people calling the police on Black people for visiting a coffee shop in Philadelphia, moving into an apartment in New York City, or taking a nap at Yale, the uncertain ability of Black people to occupy spaces in which they have every right to be is one that is still with us today, just as it was in 1955 Mississippi. 

We need to take an unflinching look at American society in 1955, but we need to recognize equally that the violence against Emmett Till was the fruit of seeds that were planted long before his murder and that those seeds continue to bear deadly fruit today.

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MLK was called a race baiter and race agitator when alive. Now that he’s conveniently dead, the same conservatives lionize him.
And try to use his memory to label the current civil rights activists as race baiters and race agitators.


"Now that he’s conveniently dead, the same conservatives lionize him."
Isn't that normally the way saints become saints? I'm still waiting for the Catholic church to canonize Martin Luther a saint; but today, you wonder who is going to save the church from itself this time!


The American Justice System is simply broken. We need reform on a large scale. Maybe “private” prosecutors or ACLU attorneys should be given the authority to criminally indict and convene Grand Juries? Part of the problem is prosecutors are allowed to cherry-pick which cases to enforce.

For example: torture, water boarding, warrantless wiretapping and Cointelpro style blacklisting all violate federal criminal statutes - most are felony violations. Bush torture attorneys that committed legal malpractice were “promoted”! One torture attorney is now a federal appellate judge standing in judgement of others.

Paula Gelunas

I'm 62 and lived thru this crap. i was raised to not see the color of a persons skin or their relgion but to see the person inside. As a youing girl seeing a black man eating way in the diner i asked my grandmother why he wasnt sitting up front as there were plenty of seats. She said thet black people couldn't sit with shite people. I said thats not right we are all the same. I thought after segragation it would change but there ate still people who do black, muslum people wrong. We must love our neighbor that is the only way this world can survive


The ACLU, who claims to support and protect free speech rights, has a habit of blocking conservative speech on their website.

basically people are sick the race card being played. The real racism in this country is against white people. Go on the government's website and look at how many white people are murdered every year by black people. Then see how many blacks are murdered by white people.

also take a look at how many white women are raped by black men. The number is astounding. And then see how many black women are raped by white men. There's not even statistics because it never happens. then take a look at violent crimes against white people perpetrated by blacks versus white crimes against black people and it's like 85% to 15%.

the ACLU and other radical liberals complain about police brutality against minorities. Okay if that's the truth then I suggest every white police officer retire or quit their job and see just how Bloody and violent not only black neighborhoods but all of America would become because of the lawlessness of black young men.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Look out, now somebody is going to call you a racist.


I would like the government source for the figures you provide. I looked but can't find anything even close to what you state.


Nobody ever suggested that the police be abolished or suggested that all police are bad. Police brutality, no matter the scale, exists, and is a problem that needs to be fixed. Your speech betrays your racism, if there was no police force it's true that there would be lawlessness, but from all ages and races not just "black young men".


I have to ask which government site you're getting these supposed statistics from because they fly in the face of the facts. Please enlighten us? Your truth is without basis and, yes, you're a definite racist if you believe that propaganda.


Seems like from the deck of cards you're playing from, every single one of them is a race card.
The mirror must show you how much of a leader of victims you represent.

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