Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till


In December of 1955, just three months after the Emmett Till murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery city bus. It signified the beginning of the black civil rights movement in America. Over the next two decades, the powerful winds of change swept over America like a storm, wiping out the evil structure of white supremacy in the South. Although the N.A.A.C.P. kept up the pressure on the Department of Justice to bring a federal case against the defendants, they never succeeded.

In an interview with author Juan Williams for the television production, Eyes on the Prize, Congressman Charles Diggs recalled the hate-filled days of the Till trial. "I think the picture in Jet magazine showing Emmett Till's mutilation," he said, "was probably the greatest media product in the last forty or fifty years because that picture stimulated a lot of interest and anger on the part of blacks all over the country."

After the trial, Moses Wright packed up his family and belongings and fled Leflore County in fear of his life. Blacks who reported a crime committed by a white man to the police were not expected to live long in Mississippi. He never went back to the land of his birth and died in 1960. Roy Bryant and his wife returned to their grocery store and tried to resume a normal life. But they found that their black customers refused to do business with them any longer. The store was forced to close. Bryant also discovered that his white friends were very reluctant to give him any assistance whatsoever. Ostracized by his own community and with no job prospects, the Bryants later moved to Texas. They were divorced in 1979. Half-brother J.W. Milam turned to farming after the Till murder. But local blacks refused to work for him and his crops eventually failed. Milam also moved to Texas for a time and labored in construction until he died from cancer in December 1981.

Mamie Till worked as a teacher in Chicago until her retirement in 1978. She became an icon of the civil rights movement and for decades, spoke on the evils of segregation and discrimination. In 2002, Mamie was interviewed for a PBS special on the murder of Emmett Till. Nearly 50 years had passed since the killing, but a mother's pain for the loss of a son was still as fresh as the day it happened. "My eyes were so full of tears, I couldn't see," she said, "and when I made the announcement that Emmett had been found and how he was found, the whole house began to scream and cry. That's when I realized this was load I would have to carry." Just two weeks before the premier of the program, The Murder of Emmett Till, she died in Chicago of heart failure. She was 81.

In his last interview with a radio program in 1989, Roy Bryant had some curious words for the manner in which he was treated. "A lot of people made a bunch of money off of this," he told a National Public Radio reporter, "I ain't never made a damn nickel!" Roy Bryant also died of cancer in 1990.

No one was ever convicted of any charges whatsoever relating to the murder of Emmett Till.

Emmett Till grave marker
Emmett Till grave marker

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