Emmett Till And His Mother Are Back In Mississippi For An Exhibition Sharing Their Story With A New Generation


“Let the world see what they did to my boy.”–Mamie Till-Mobley

When 14-year-old Emmett Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River near rural Money, MS, his left eye and ear were gone along with most of his teeth. His face was crushed and there was a hole in his right temple.

The boy had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the offense of whistling at Bryant’s wife, Carol, in Bryant’s Grocery in Money a week earlier.

This was 1955 and racial terror was as much a part of the American South as humidity.

Before dumping Till’s body–remember, a 14-year-old–in the river, Bryant and Milam tied a cotton gin fan around his neck with barbed wire to weigh him down.

Till was so disfigured, he was only identified by a ring he was known to wear.


Mamie Till demanded her son’s body be returned to Chicago against the wishes of Mississippi officials who desired a hasty burial and return business as usual.

Mamie (1921–2003) was from Mississippi, leaving for Chicago as part of the Great Migration. Emmett, against her mother’s intuition, was allowed to visit cousins there during the summer of 1955, a common practice of the age. It was his first visit there, and, of course, his last.

Sickened at her son’s appearance, of the obvious barbarity he had encountered in his final hours, Mamie made the almost unimaginable decision to have Emmett’s casket opened during the funeral, his brutalized face on view for the nation, the world.

“Let the world see what they did to my boy.”

Have you ever seen a picture of Emmett Till’s face from the funeral? The 14-year-old’s battered and bloated face? It was widely distributed in news media at the time.

Chances are, no; proof positive of America’s systemic and successful efforts to erase a deep and ongoing history of racial terror and deny humanity to its victims.

However bad you think it is, it’s worse.

“Let the World See”

Opening on April 1 at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson, about 110 miles south of where Emmett Till’s body was found, an exhibition, “Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See,” shares how a mother’s bravery and fight for justice fueled the Civil Rights Movement in America.

While the struggle for civil rights by African Americans had been engaged in since slave ships first landed on American soil, the Movement was largely sparked by the cruelty of Till’s murder.

“Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor,” Congressman John Lewis once said.

Not that thousands of African Americans hadn’t been treated similarly to Till, but this time, thanks to Mamie’s decision keeping the casket open, everyone could see. Racial terror in American no longer had thousands of unknown victims, it had one, well-known face.

That of a 14-year-old boy.

One story always resonates more deeply than a thousand.

Till’s wake was attended by upwards of 100,000 people and sparked international discourse over his killing and racist violence in America. A struggle for Civil Rights became a movement for Civil Rights.

National. International. Organized.

On Exhibit

“Let the World See,” appropriate for ages 10 and up, gives background into the Till’s life in Chicago. Emmett’s jokester personality. The love which surrounded him at home.

In contrast, the exhibition also reveals the rampant racial terror occurring throughout the Jim Crow South. It details the circumstances of Emmett’s interaction with Carol Bryant at the store and his kidnapping at gunpoint in the middle of the night by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam from the home of Mose Wright, Emmett’s great-uncle, with whom he was staying.

These events are recalled first-hand in an audio recording made by Reverend Wheeler Parker, Emmett’s cousin, best friend and last living witness to Till’s abduction.

It recounts the sham trial in Sumner, MS.

Despite Wright’s dramatic, eyewitness testimony positively identifying the defendants as the men who kidnapped Emmett, an all-white jury took just over an hour to acquit the pair.

To this day, nobody has ever been convicted, served time or been held accountable for Till’s murder. Bryant and Milam later confessed to the deed, in a national magazine interview no less, but continued living unpunished thanks to double jeopardy protections.

Emmett Till was murdered by individuals, but it was a community that protected the murderers. The all-white jury. The accomplices in the crime and confidants of the murderers who kept quiet. The residents across the Mississippi Delta who filled mason jars by cash registers with money to support Bryan and Milam’s defense. Those store owners. The defendants’ lawyers.

Every lawyer in Sumner gave their services to represent the murderers.

“Let the World See” was developed by the Till family, Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley Institute, Emmett Till Interpretive Center, and The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis where this 3D walkthrough of the exhibition was produced. Having already been seen in Indy, Birmingham and Washington, D.C., the presentation will travel to the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, the Atlanta History Center, and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis after wrapping in Jackson on May 14, 2023.

Its permanent destination will be the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner.

Emmett Till’s Ongoing Legacy

“Racial Reconciliation begins by telling the truth.”

That serves as motto for the Emmett Till Interpretive Center founded to confront the brutal truth of Till’s murder and tell his and his mother’s story in a way which moves people forward. That story remains ongoing.

While Milam died in 1980 and Roy Bryant in 1994, Carol Bryant is still alive.

In August 2022, a grand jury in Mississippi declined to indict her over the allegations which led to Till’s vicious death.

In March of 2022, Parker was on hand at the White House for the signing of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, designating lynching as a federal hate crime for the first time in US history. It took more than 200 different attempts since 1900 to codify antilynching legislation.

“Emmett Till’s 1955 lynching is the first Black Lives Matter story, and galvanized the Civil Rights Movement,” Christopher Benson, President of the Till Institute board, said at the signing. “For people of color, lynching has been a ubiquitous part of American life following Reconstruction as an act of racial power to enforce place in our society. This law makes us face our nation’s history and helps us recognize the need for systemic change to advance the values of a truly multicultural society. We will keep telling Emmett’s story, and tell the stories of countless others who have stood up to injustice and inspire visitors to continue the struggle for racial justice today.”

In February of 2023, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to designate the church that held Emmett Till’s funeral in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood as a national monument. The “Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley, and Roberts Temple National Historic Site Act” would establish the church as a national monument to be managed by the U.S. National Park Service ensuring that the historic church will be preserved and continue to tell Emmett Till’s critically important story as part of American history.

The world saw what they did to Mamie’s boy, millions were deeply moved, millions more completely unmoved; with a reenergized white supremacy movement surging across America along with the racial violence always accompanying it, Emmett and Mamie are back, in spirit, demanding the county look itself in the face again, no matter how uncomfortable.


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