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The Murder of Emmett Till
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Timeline: The Murder of Emmett Till

1921-1954 | 1955-2003  


% May 7: The Reverend George Lee, a grocery owner and NAACP field worker in Belzoni, Mississippi, is shot and killed at point blank range while driving in his car after trying to vote. A few weeks later in Brookhaven, Mississippi, Lamar Smith, another black man, is shot and killed in front of the county courthouse, in broad daylight and before witnesses, after casting his ballot. Both victims had been active in voter registration drives. No one will be arrested in connection with either murder.

% August 19: A day before her son is to leave for a summer stay with family in Mississippi, Mamie Till gives Emmett the ring once owned by his father, Louis Till. It is inscribed with the initials L.T.

August 20: Mamie Till rushes her son Emmett to the 63rd Street station in Chicago to catch the southbound train to Money, Mississippi.

August 21: Emmett Till arrives in Money, Mississippi, and goes to stay at the home of his great uncle Moses Wright.

August 24: Emmett joins a group of teenagers, seven boys and one girl, to go to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market for refreshments to cool off after a long day of picking cotton in the hot sun. Bryant's Grocery, owned by a white couple, Roy and Carolyn Bryant, sells supplies and candy to a primarily black clientele of sharecroppers and their children. Emmett goes into the store to buy bubble gum. Some of the kids outside the store will later say they heard Emmett whistle at Carolyn Bryant.

August 28: About 2:30 a.m., Roy Bryant, Carolyn's husband, and his half brother J. W. Milam, kidnap Emmett Till from Moses Wright's home. They will later describe brutally beating him, taking him to the edge of the Tallahatchie River, shooting him in the head, fastening a large metal fan used for ginning cotton to his neck with barbed wire, and pushing the body into the river.

August 29: J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant are arrested on kidnapping charges in LeFlore County in connection with Till's disappearance. They are jailed in Greenwood, Mississippi and held without bond.

August 31: Three days later, Emmett Till's decomposed corpse is pulled from Mississippi's Tallahatchie River. Moses Wright identifies the body from a ring with the initials L.T.

September 1: Mississippi Governor Hugh White orders local officials to "fully prosecute" Milam and Bryant in the Till case.

Distraut Mamie September 2: In Chicago, Mamie Till arrives at the Illinois Central Terminal to receive Emmett's casket. She is surrounded by family and photographers who snap her photo collapsing in grief at the sight of the casket. The body is taken to the A. A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home.

The Jackson [Mississippi] Daily News decries the "brutal, senseless crime" but complains that the NAACP is working "to arouse hatred and fear" by calling Till's murder a lynching.

In Belgium, the newspaper Le Drapeau Rouge (the Red Flag), publishes a brief article entitled: "Racism in the USA: A young black is lynched in Mississippi."

September 3: Emmett Till's body is taken to Chicago's Roberts Temple Church of God for viewing and funeral services. Emmett's mother decides to have an open casket funeral. Thousands of Chicagoans wait in line to see Emmett's brutally beaten body.

Crowd at funeral September 6: Emmett Till is buried at Burr Oak Cemetery.

The same day, a grand jury in Mississippi indicts Milam and Bryant for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. They both plead innocent. They will be held in jail until the start of the trial.

September 15: Jet magazine, the nationwide black magazine owned by Chicago-based Johnson Publications, publishes photographs of Till's mutilated corpse, shocking and outraging African Americans from coast to coast.

September 17: The black newspaper The Chicago Defender publishes photographs of Till's corpse.

September 19: The kidnapping and murder trial of J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant opens in Sumner, Mississippi, the county seat of Tallahatchie County. Jury selection begins and, with blacks and white women banned from serving, an all-white, 12-man jury made up of nine farmers, two carpenters and one insurance agent is selected.

Mamie Till Bradley departs from Chicago's Midway Airport to attend the trial.

September 20: Judge Curtis Swango recesses the court to allow more witnesses to be found. It is the first time in Mississippi history that local law enforcement, local NAACP leaders and black and white reporters team up to locate sharecroppers who saw Milam's truck and overheard Emmett being beaten.

The French daily newspaper Le Monde runs an article reporting that the American public is following the Till case "with passionate attention."

Moses Wright September 21: Moses Wright, Emmett Till's great uncle, does the unthinkable -- he accuses two white men in open court. While on the witness stand, he stands up and points his finger at Milam and Bryant, and accuses them of coming to his house and kidnapping Emmett.

September 23: Milam and Bryant are acquitted of murdering Emmett Till after the jury deliberates only 67 minutes. One juror tells a reporter that they wouldn't have taken so long if they hadn't stopped to drink pop. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam stand before photographers, light up cigars and kiss their wives in celebration of the not guilty verdict.

Moses Wright and another poor black Mississippian who testified, Willie Reed, leave Mississippi and are smuggled to Chicago. Once there, Reed collapses and suffers a nervous breakdown.

September 26: In Belgium, two left-wing newspapers publish articles on the acquittal. Le Peuple, the daily Belgian Socialist newspaper, calls the acquittal "a judicial scandal in the United States." Le Drapeau Rouge (the Red Flag) publishes: "Killing a black person isn't a crime in the home of the Yankees: The white killers of young Emmett Till are acquitted!"

In France, L'Aurore newspaper publishes: "The Scandalous Acquittal in Sumner" and the daily newspaper Le Figaro adds: "The Shame of the Sumner Jury."

September 27: The French daily newspaper Le Monde runs an article: "The Sumner Trial Marks, Perhaps, an Opening of Consciousness."

September 28: In Germany, the newspaper Freies Volk publishes: "The Life of a Negro Isn't Worth a Whistle."

In France, the French Communist Party newspaper L'Humanité writes: "After the Mockery of Justice in Mississippi: Emotion in Paris."

September 30: Milam and Bryant are released on bond. Kidnapping charges are pending.

October 15: The Memphis Commercial Appeal publishes an article reporting that Louis Till was executed by the U.S. Army in Italy in 1945 for raping two Italian women and killing a third. Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland has leaked the information to the press.

October 22: The American Jewish Committee in New York releases a report urging Congress to bolster Federal civil rights legislation in light of the Till case. Their report includes quotes from newspapers in six European countries expressing shock and outrage after the Till verdict.

Set free November 9: Returning to Mississippi one last time, Moses Wright and Willie Reed testify before a LeFlore County grand jury in Greenwood, Mississippi. The grand jury refuses to indict Milam or Bryant for kidnapping. The two white men go free.

December 5: One hundred days after Emmett Till's murder, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a city bus, launching the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the civil rights movement. The boycott will last 381 days.


January 24: Look magazine publishes an article written by Alabama journalist William Bradford Huie, entitled The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi. Huie has offered Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam $4,000 to tell how they killed Emmett Till. Milam speaks for the record.


January 22: William Bradford Huie writes another article for Look magazine, "What's Happened to the Emmett Till Killers?" Huie writes that "Milam does not regret the killing, though it has brought him nothing but trouble." Blacks have stopped frequenting stores owned by the Milam and Bryant families and put them out of business. Bryant takes up welding for income, and both men are ostracized by the white community.


April 25: Three days before his scheduled trial, Mack Charles Parker, a 23-year-old African American truck driver, is lynched by a hooded mob of white men in Poplarville, Mississippi. Parker had been accused of raping a pregnant white woman and was being held in a local jail. The mob takes him from his cell, beats him, takes him to a bridge, shoots and kills him, then weighs his body down with chains and dumps him in the river. Many people know the identity of the killers, but the community closes ranks and refuses to talk. Echoing the Till case, the FBI will investigate and identify at least 10 men involved, but the U.S. Department of Justice will rule there are no federal grounds to make an arrest and press charges. Two grand juries -- one county and one federal -- will adjourn without indictments.


December: J. W. Milam dies in Mississippi of cancer.


September: Roy Bryant dies in Mississippi of cancer.


January 6: Mamie Till Mobley dies of heart failure, at age 81. Her death comes just two weeks before The Murder of Emmett Till is to premiere nationally on PBS.

1921-1954 | 1955-2003  

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