The Blood of Emmett Till

At a tiny hamlet in the Mississippi Delta there stands Bryant’s Grocery. Here in August 1955, a 14-year-old black youth from Chicago, Emmett Till, allegedly flirted with Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. Several days later, Emmett’s body surfaced, tortured and mutilated, in the nearby Tallahatchie River. Carolyn Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J.W. Milam were indicted, tried, and rapidly acquitted. The case came to epitomize the state-sanctioned racial terrorism in the American South. The story of lynchings in America is truly horrific See here and here .


Timothy B. Tyson ( argues that public revulsion at Emmett’s murder and his killers’ acquittal, in conjunction with the ongoing Montgomery bus boycott, gave a crucial boost to the Civil Rights movement, which had been brewing for years without capturing American public attention. The sickening brutality of the crime, and Emmett’s mother Mamie’s brave insistence that the world see her boy’s ruined body at the funeral, made this crime a tipping point.


In his background to the crime the author illustrates the repressive social system that lower-class Mississippi whites such as Carolyn Bryant had to navigate, and the power that sheriffs and country judges wielded over their poor, uneducated citizens. Those who ran this system pitted poor whites against blacks in order to maintain their dominance. News, and the ghastly pictures, of the crime quickly spread across the country and abroad. While the white press of the time covered the crime as another regrettable example of the South’s peculiar folk customs, the nation’s network of black newspapers (including the influential Pittsburgh Courier) worked hard to stoke moral outrage. After the world press picked up the story, William Faulkner addressed the Emmett Till crime at a Rome press conference. ‘If we in America have reached the point in our desperate culture where we must murder children’,  he answered, ‘we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t’.


Tyson has unearthed and synthesized many previously known sources to give a fullest picture of the Emmett Till case so far. But, chillingly, he offers something new. In a 2008 interview with Mr. Tyson, Carolyn Bryant disavowed her damning testimony from all those years ago, admitting that none of it was true. Emmett Till had never touched her. It was all a lie.


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304 pages in Simon & Schuster

First published 2017

ISBN  978-1476714844



Timothy B. Tyson

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