Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till


Emmett Till was born on July 25, 1941. He was the son of Louis Till and Mamie Bradley. Louis was an American G.I. who was executed in Italy for murder in 1945. After Louis' death, Mamie gave his ring, inscribed with the initials "L.T.", to Emmett as a memento. Mamie was born in Tallahatchie County in west central Mississippi. She was a child of the delta but escaped its clutches by migrating to Chicago at a very early age. During that era, there was an exodus of black Americans from the South, especially Mississippi. However, some of Mamie's uncles and aunts stayed behind.

Map: Tallahatchie County, Mississippi
Map: Tallahatchie County,

Emmett was known as "Bobo" or simply "Bo" to his friends and family. He was gregarious, out-going and fun-loving. Although Emmett suffered from polio as a child, he grew to become a large teenager. By the time he was twelve, Bo was 5'6" and 160 lbs., with a thick, stocky build. But the polio left him with a persistent stutter. Coming from Chicago, he had the typical wisecracking demeanor of inner city youth. He liked to be seen and heard.

Young Emmett Till, posing
Young Emmett Till, posing

In the summer of 1955, Mamie decided to send Bo to visit her relatives in Mississippi. She had a cousin, Moses "Preacher" Wright, 64, who still lived in Leflore County in a wisp of a town called Money, population 55. It was ironic that a place with the name Money could be so poor, but the community was just that. There simply was no industry, no business district and no affluence. "Preacher" Wright was a sharecropper who made his living harvesting cotton on 25 acres. In a good season, and there weren't many, he could take in $1,500 for a year's labor. He lived with his wife, Elizabeth, 55, and three sons in a six-room wooden shack outside of town.

On August 20, Mamie brought her son to the crowded train station at 63rd Street in Chicago to catch the train south. She gave Emmett some advice on how to behave. "Bo, be very careful how you speak," she said, "say 'yes sir' and 'no, ma'am' and do not hesitate to humble yourself if you have to get down on your knees!" After all, she later explained in court, Emmett was born and raised in Chicago. He could not possibly know how to act in a place like Mississippi.

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