Sixty-seven years ago, the horrific murder of Emmett Till sent shockwaves across America.
Emmett, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, was abducted, tortured and shot in the head on August 28, 1955, after a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, claimed he whistled at her in a Mississippi store.
The two killers were Roy, Carolyn’s husband, and Roy’s half brother J.W. Milam.
Emmett was accused of breaking the unwritten code of behaviour for a black male interacting with a white woman in the Jim Crow-era south.
His body was found three days after he disappeared – mutilated and bloated in the Tallahatchie River.
The brutality of his murder and choice to have an open coffin at his funeral made Emmett a posthumous flashpoint for the Civil Rights Movement.
His killers were acquitted and never faced justice under the legal system in America, while Carolyn lived a free life in North Carolina.
However, the discovery of an unserved 1955 arrest warrant for Carolyn in a basement in Greenwood, Mississippi, has led Emmett’s family to call for her arrest all these years later.
Professor Davis Houck, who founded the Emmett Till Archives, told Metro.co.uk that ‘in many ways 2022 is the year of Till’.
‘It is 67 years since his murder, we have the release of the film about his life and of course the discovery of this warrant dating back to 1955,’ professor Houck, from Florida State University, said.
‘While the discovery of the warrant could potentially help the prosecution case against Carolyn Bryant Donham, no new actual evidence has been brought to light from its discovery.
‘The question remains as to whether any of Till’s living relatives will get the justice they deserve.’
This story of injustice has shaped life for Till’s relatives after his murder.
Despite the white Mississippi press rallying to Till’s cause, in September 1955 – an all-white jury found Bryant and Milam not guilty of murder.
The two men later revealed in an interview with Life magazine in 1956 they had murdered and tortured the boy, selling the story for $4,000.
It sparked Black Americans into action against racial injustice across the country and beyond.
Professor Houck believes Emmett’s murder also inspired different strands of protest – particularly among the youth at the time.
He said: ‘There is no doubt Emmett Till is a bastion for the Civil Rights Movement.
‘But a more compelling case is how his murder inspired the student protests of 1960-61, who were all Emmett’s age and were forced into activism over their horror at his murder.
‘On top of this, Greenwood, Mississippi, became this focal point of the Civil Rights Movement throughout the 60s with visits from Martin Luther King meeting students and activists during this time.
‘While we like to think Till as this icon of the Civil Rights Movement – he was above all, more than this.’
Professor Elliott Gorn, from Loyola University in Chicago, told Metro.co.uk the discovery of the 1955 warrant is ‘surprising’, but it does not bring justice for Till’s family.
‘This reawakens attention to the murder and the fact that no one was ever punished,’ he said.
‘But a jury has already determined, for the second time, that Carolyn Bryant will not be charged.
‘Virtually everyone is dead, there are no witnesses to interview, her own complicity is muddled by he-said, she-said kinds of testimony.
‘The practical implication is that no one will ever serve a day in prison for Emmett Till’s murder.
‘The longer-term implication is that the family will never have a sense that justice was served.’
Despite this injustice, both professors believe the memory of Till will continue to shape race relations across the world and act as a talking point during moments like Black History Month.
Professor Gorn said: ‘Emmett Till has become an emblem, especially of the failures of criminal justice, even today.
‘With every killing in recent years – from Trayvon Martin through to George Floyd – his name is invoked again and again in news stories.
‘Back in the 60s, young Civil Rights workers called themselves, “The Emmett Till Generation.”
‘He has become the face of brutal racism gone unpunished, unredeemed.
‘The Till story is a reminder both of how ugly American racism was before the Civil Rights Movement, but also how far the US still has to go, especially in our own era of race-baiting in politics.’
Professor Houck added: ‘I’m hopeful during moment’s like this during Black History Month and beyond that people’s curiosity about the story of Till will peak.
‘Digital technology increasingly helps us understand the life and legacy Till has on shaping the future of race relations and democracy itself.
‘His is a cautionary tale of justice denied. I hope this tale will inspire others to investigate other unsolved murders of African Americans from the 1950s to the 1970s so that we can live in a better world, today and tomorrow.’
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Black History Month
October marks Black History Month, which reflects on the achievements, cultures and contributions of Black people in the UK and across the globe, as well as educating others about the diverse history of those from African and Caribbean descent.
For more information about the events and celebrations that are taking place this year, visit the official Black History Month website.