Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till (July 25, 1941 %u2013 August 28, 1955) was an African-American teenager from Chicago, Illinois who died in what has been characterized as a "brutal murder" in a region of Mississippi known as the Mississippi Delta in the small town of Money in Leflore County. His murder was one of the key events that energized the nascent American Civil Rights Movement. The main suspects were acquitted but later admitted to committing the crime. Till's mother had an open casket funeral to let everyone see how her son had been brutally killed. He had been shot and beaten; he was then thrown into the Tallahatchie River with a 75-pound cotton gin fan tied to his neck with barbed wire as a weight. His body stayed in the river for three days until it was discovered and retrieved by two fishermen.
Emmett Till was the son of Mamie Till and Louis Till. Emmett's mother was born to John and Alma Carthan in the small Delta town of Webb, Mississippi ("the Delta" being the traditional name for the area of northwestern Mississippi, at the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers). When she was two years old, her family moved to Illinois. Emmett's mother largely raised him on her own; she and Louis Till had separated in 1942.
Emmett's father, Louis Till, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. While serving in Italy, he was convicted of raping two Italian woman and killing a third. He was executed by the Army by hanging near Pisa in July 1945. Before Emmett Till's killing, the Till family knew none of this, only that Louis had been killed due to "willful misconduct". The facts of Louis Till's execution were only made widely known after Emmett Till's death, by segregationist senator James Eastland, in an apparent attempt to turn public support away from Mrs. Till just weeks before the trials of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the implication being that criminal behavior ran in the Till family.
In 1955, Till and his cousin were sent for a summer stay with Till's great-uncle, Moses Wright, who lived in Money, Mississippi (another small town in the Delta, eight miles north of Greenwood).
Before his departure for the Delta, Till's mother cautioned him to "mind his manners" with white people.
Till's mother understood that race relations in Mississippi were very different from those in Chicago. The state had seen many lynchings during the South's lynching era (ca. 1876-1930), and racially motivated murders were still not unfamiliar, especially in the "Delta" region where Till was going to visit. Racial tensions were also on the rise after the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education to end segregation in public education.
Till arrived on August 21. On August 24, he joined other teenagers as they went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to get some candy and soda. The teens were children of sharecroppers and had been picking cotton all day. The market was owned by a husband and wife, Roy Bryant and Carolyn Bryant, and mostly catered to the local sharecropper population. Till's cousin and several black youths, all under 16, were reported to have been with Till in the store.
Depending on who tells the story, as Till was leaving the store, he either whistled at or physically assaulted and propositioned Carolyn Bryant. She stood up and stormed to her car. The boys were terrified thinking she might return with a pistol and ran away. The news of this greatly angered her husband when he heard of it upon his return from out of town several days later.
Till's cousin, Wheeler Parker, Jr., who was with him at the store, claims Till did nothing but whistle at the woman. "He loved pranks, he loved fun, he loved jokes ... in Mississippi, people didn't think the same jokes were funny." Carolyn Bryant later asserted that Till had grabbed her at the waist and asked her for a date. She said the young man also used "unprintable" words. He had a slight stutter and some have conjectured that Bryant might have misinterpreted what Till said.
By the time 24-year-old Roy Bryant returned from a road trip three days after his wife's encounter with Till, it seemed that everyone in Tallahatchie County had heard about the incident, in every conceivable version. Bryant decided that he and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, 36, would meet around 1:00 a.m. on Sunday to "teach the boy a lesson."