Emmett Till Trial

How it Started

He stayed with his great-uncle, Moses Wright, who was a sharecropper, and he spent his days helping with the cotton harvest. On August 24, Till and a group of other teens went to a local grocery store after a day of working in the fields. Accounts of what transpired thereafter vary. Some witnesses stated that one of the other boys dared Till to talk to the store’s cashier, Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. It was reported that Till then whistled at, touched the hand or waist of, or flirted with the woman as he was leaving the store. Whatever the truth, Till did not mention the incident to his great-uncle. In the early morning hours of August 28, Roy Bryant, the cashier’s husband, and J.W. Milam, Bryant’s half brother, forced their way into Wright’s home and abducted Till at gunpoint. Bryant and Milam severely beat the boy, gouging out one of his eyes. They then took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River, where they killed him with a single gunshot to the head. The two men tied the teen’s body to a large metal fan with a length of barbed wire before dumping the corpse into the river.

What Happened to Emmett Till

Wright reported the kidnapping to the police, and Bryant and Milam were arrested the following day. On Aug. 31, 1955, Till’s corpse was discovered in the river. His face was unrecognizable as a result of the assault, and positive identification was possible only because Till was wearing a monogrammed ring that had belonged to his father. On September 2, less than two weeks after Till had embarked on his journey south, the train bearing his remains arrived in Chicago. Till’s mother kept her son’s casket open, choosing to reveal to the tens of thousands who attended the funeral the brutality that had been visited on her son.

Beginning of the Trial

The trial of Till’s killers began on Sept. 19, 1955, and from the witness stand Wright identified the men who had kidnapped Till. After four days of testimony and a little more than an hour of deliberation, an all-white, all-male jury acquitted Bryant and Milam of all charges. Protected from further prosecution by double jeopardy statutes, the pair was paid for the story and interviewed by their lawyer and a journalist in a 1956 article for Look magazine in which they related the circumstances of Till’s kidnapping and murder.