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In Remembrance of Emmett Till

In Remembrance of Emmett Till: Regional Stories and Media Responses to the Black Freedom Struggle

Darryl Mace
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  • Book Info
    In Remembrance of Emmett Till
    Book Description:

    On August 28, 1955, fourteen-year-old Chicago native Emmett Till was brutally beaten to death for allegedly flirting with a white woman at a grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam were acquitted of murdering Till and dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River, and later that year, an all-white grand jury chose not to indict the men on kidnapping charges. A few months later, Bryant and Milam admitted to the crime in an interview with the national media. They were never convicted.

    Although Till's body was mutilated, his mother ordered that his casket remain open during the funeral service so that the country could observe the results of racially motivated violence in the Deep South. Media attention focused on the lynching fanned the flames of regional tension and impelled many individuals -- including Rosa Parks -- to become vocal activists for racial equality.

    In this innovative study, Darryl Mace explores media coverage of Till's murder and provides a close analysis of the regional and racial perspectives that emerged. He investigates the portrayal of the trial in popular and black newspapers in Mississippi and the South, documents posttrial reactions, and examines Till's memorialization in the press to highlight the media's role in shaping regional and national opinions. Provocative and compelling, In Remembrance of Emmett Till provides a valuable new perspective on one of the sparks that ignited the civil rights movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4538-9
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    While never referred to asthe crime of the century,the kidnapping and lynching of Emmett Louis Till captured the country’s imagination and sent waves of outrage through the public.¹ It engendered a visceral response from many progressive-minded individuals, and the comprehensive coverage by the regional and national press emboldened a generation of activists—dubbedthe Emmett Till generation—to speak out and act out in remembrance of Emmett Till. Till was not the first black male murdered in the South, but because he was a youth and a northerner his death fanned the flames of regionalism and regional tension...

  5. 1 Emmett Till’s America
    (pp. 11-20)

    “If Jesus Christ bore our sins, then Emmett Till bore our prejudices.” Mamie Till-Mobley issued this poignant proclamation during a 1989 interview with Studs Terkel. Having grown up in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) faith tradition, Till-Mobley often used her religion and her faith to make sense of turbulent times in her life. Surely, no event was more turbulent than the brutal 1955 lynching of her fourteen-year-old son, Emmett Louis Till. Her family had a strong connection with the COGIC faith tradition. When the COGIC founder, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, split from the Church of God, he moved...

  6. 2 August Nights
    (pp. 21-46)

    When, on August 31, 1955, a fisherman spotted Emmett Till’s feet breaking the surface of the Tallahatchie River, some print media outlets from across the country sprang into action reporting on the event: yet another senseless murder of a black male in the Mississippi Delta. The Till lynching tested the limits of tolerance for racial oppression in the post–World War II era, an often-referenced subject, given national efforts to champion the merits of American democracy over Soviet totalitarianism. Truly, as Mary Dudziak identified the problem, “during the Cold War years, when international perceptions of American democracy were thought to...

  7. 3 Home Going
    (pp. 47-66)

    Emmett Till’s brutal 1955 murder exposed the malignant cancer of racial hatred rapidly metastasizing across the South in the wake ofBrown v. Board of Education.Untreated, this tumor threatened to disfigure and permanently discredit U.S. Cold War efforts at home and abroad. Through interest and disinterest in the case, domestic print media sources positioned themselves in relation to the senseless killing. By foregrounding, obscuring, and whitewashing elements of the saga, national and regional news outlets framed the events and the actors in ways that bolstered existing dispositions toward gender and race. Moreover, these approaches demarcated the importance of the...

  8. 4 “M Is for Mississippi and Murder”
    (pp. 67-78)

    The state of Mississippi moved rapidly through the preliminary legal proceedings against Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, the two men arrested on August 29, 1955, for their involvement in Emmett Louis Till’s kidnapping and murder. However, the speed of the legal process could not assuage Mississippi’s critics. By the time of the September 6 grand jury indictment on the charge of murder, the state already faced a media barrage from multiple sources lambasting its history of miserably oppressive race relations. With the September 19, 1955, murder trial looming, several media outlets set the stage for an all-out assault on...

  9. 5 Trial by Print
    (pp. 79-94)

    Over the course of four days in September, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, the state of Mississippi, the Deep South, and the nation all went on trial, a trial by print. Four days after the trial began, the shocking saga of brutality and murder that had captured the nation’s and the world’s imagination reached a climax when, after roughly an hour of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. For many of the reporters, their time in Sumner, Mississippi, following the trial shone a light on the realities of southern racial oppression. Through their trial coverage, national...

  10. 6 Galvanizing the Emmett Till Generation
    (pp. 95-132)

    Even after the panel of all-white male jurors exonerated Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam of any culpability in his brutal lynching, Emmett Till’s death lived on as a rallying point for a generation of civil rights activists. Some scholars, led by Clenora Hudson-Weems, argued that Emmett Till was the spark that ignited the flames of the modern civil rights movement. While much intellectual debate exists as to what actually was the seminal event that launched the movement, it is clear from activists’ testimonies that Till’s death resonated with and served as a driving force behind those who throughout the...

  11. 7 In Remembrance of Emmett Till
    (pp. 133-152)

    The national narrative constructed around the legacy of Emmett Till is shaped by individual and collective memories of the events, memories that developed out of reactions to the regional stories and racial dispositions found in the print media. Since memories are often embellished and distorted over time, and since print media narratives of the Till saga varied in scope, detail, and emphasis, many conflicting accounts of key events have developed. According to some, particularly Carolyn Bryant and her family, Emmett Till physically and verbally assaulted Bryant as she tended the family store; others maintain that Till simply whistled at the...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 153-156)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 157-184)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-206)
  15. Index
    (pp. 207-212)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-214)