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The Murder of Emmett Till | Timeline

The Murder of Emmett Till

From the Collection: Civil Rights
The scene outside Till's funeral, Corbis.

November 23, 1921
Mamie Carthan is born to John and Alma Carthan in a small town near Webb, Mississippi.

January 1924
Two-year-old Mamie Carthan arrives in Argo, Illinois, a small town outside of Chicago, with her mother. Her father has arrived several months ahead of the family to work at the Argo Corn Products Refining Company.

June 1940
Mamie Carthan graduates from Argo Community High School. 

October 14, 1940
Mamie Carthan marries 18-year-old Louis Till.

July 25, 1941
Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till is born in Chicago's Cook County Hospital to Louis and Mamie Till.

Also this year, sociologist Gunnar Myrdal publishes a landmark study on whites' preoccupation with miscegenation, An American Dilemma. Myrdal and his researchers ask white southerners to choose what they believe blacks most want from integration. The number one item on their list: "intermarriage and sexual intercourse with whites." This category ranks last for blacks.

Louis and Mamie Till separate. The following year, in 1943, Louis Till is drafted by the Army to serve in World War II.

Mamie Till learns that Private Louis Till has died while in Europe. She is not given a full report of her ex-husband's death. One of his few possessions received by Mamie is a signet ring inscribed with his initials, L.T.

A reactionary wing of Mississippi's Democratic Party splits off from the national party and forms the "Dixiecrats," a pro-Southern movement that joins the States' Rights Party. The Party opposes, among other things, African American empowerment and integration, and claims Democratic presidential nominee Harry Truman is too liberal. The States' Rights Party elects its own presidential candidate, South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond. Thurmond carries four states and 39 electoral votes; Truman wins the presidency.

May 17, 1954
The Supreme Court orders public schools desegregated in Brown v. Board of Education. The watershed case overturns the separate-but-equal doctrine, which dated back to the 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Southern segregationists vow to oppose the ruling, and label this day Black Monday. Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Tom P. Brady becomes the intellectual godfather of the Mississippi Citizens' Council, a white supremacist organization that will be replicated throughout the South. Its first meeting will be held in Indianola, Mississippi on July 11. 

May 7, 1955
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 20, 1955
Mamie Till rushes her son Emmett to the 63rd Street station in Chicago to catch the southbound train to Money, Mississippi where he will visit with family. The previous day, Mamie had given Emmett the ring once owned by his father, Louis Till. It is inscribed with the initials L.T.

August 21, 1955
Emmett Till arrives in Money, Mississippi, and goes to stay at the home of his great uncle Moses Wright.

August 24, 1955
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, 1955
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, 1955
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, 1955
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, 1955
Mississippi Governor Hugh White orders local officials to "fully prosecute" Milam and Bryant in the Till case.

September 2, 1955
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, 1955
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.

September 6, 1955
Emmett Till is buried at Burr Oak Cemetery.

In Mississippi, a grand jury 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, 1955
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, 1955
The black newspaper The Chicago Defender publishes photographs of Till's corpse.

September 19, 1955
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, 1955
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."

September 21, 1955
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, 1955
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, 1955
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, 1955
The French daily newspaper Le Monde runs an article: "The Sumner Trial Marks, Perhaps, an Opening of Consciousness."

September 28, 1955
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, 1955
Milam and Bryant are released on bond. Kidnapping charges are pending.

October 15, 1955
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, 1955
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.

November 9, 1955
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.

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