Emmett Till

Two African Americans sit and smile toward the camera. A woman, at right, has a arm around a boy.,
Portrait of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley, ca. 1954.

NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Quick Facts
Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, was kidnapped and lynched while visiting family on summer vacation in Mississippi in August 1955. His brutal death brought attention to pervasive racist violence and helped inspire the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Place of Birth:
Chicago, Illinois
Date of Birth:
July 25, 1941
Place of Death:
Tallahatchie County, Mississippi
Date of Death:
August 28, 1955
Place of Burial:
Alsip, Illinois
Cemetery Name:
Burr Oak Cemetery


Emmett Louis Till (nicknamed “Bobo”), was born on July 25, 1941 to Mamie (née Carthan) Till-Mobley and Louis Till at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. The Cook County Hospital was one of the only local facilities providing medical care to African Americans. Till’s birth was difficult, leaving him with facial scars. Doctors also initially believed that he would be permanently disabled, but he began walking at 11 months.   

The Tills initially resided in Argo-Summit, a town outside of Chicago, where Mamie Till-Mobley’s family settled after moving from Mississippi as part of the Great Migration. This exodus of African Americans out of the South was ignited by long-standing racist violence and widespread economic, social, and political disparities between Black and White people. Louis worked at the Argo Corn Products Company, one of the primary employers of African American men in the town, including Mrs. Till-Mobley’s father, John Carthan.   

Emmett’s parents separated when he was a toddler, and he and his mother remained in Argo-Summit. While in the first grade, he contracted polio, which left him with a stutter and weak ankles for which he was required to wear special shoes. Despite his physical disabilities, Emmett was known as a fun-loving jokester.  

In the early 1950s, after briefly living in Detroit, Michigan, Emmett and his mother moved to Chicago where they resided in a home owned by his maternal grandmother, Alma Spearman. The home was located on St. Lawrence Avenue where it still stands today, designated a Chicago Landmark in 2021. Mother and son occupied the three-bedroom apartment on the second floor with other relatives living on the first floor. To help his working mother, Emmett took on various household duties, including cleaning, laundry, and some cooking.  

In the summer of 1955, while on vacation from school, Emmett’s great-aunt Elizabeth Wright and her husband Moses (Mose) invited him to visit them. The Wrights lived outside the town of Money, LeFlore County, Mississippi. In August, after receiving reluctant permission from his mother, Emmett traveled by train down South with his great-uncle (Mose) Wright and Wright’s grandson, Wheeler Parker, Jr. His visit would come to a tragic end.  

Death and Injustice 

After picking cotton one day, Emmett and his cousins drove into the town of Money to go to Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market. There, Emmett purchased two cents worth of candy from Carolyn Bryant, a young White woman working behind the counter who owned the local store with her husband, Roy Bryant. During the course of their interaction, Emmett, according to eyewitnesses, whistled at Bryant. 

In retaliation for the perceived breach of racial customs, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam drove to the home of Mose Wright to find Emmett on Sunday, August 28 around 2:00 am. After waking the “Preacher,” as Mose Wright was called, Bryant asked for “that boy who did the talking down at Money.” Bryant and Milam entered the Wright home and confronted Emmett, who was ordered to get dressed. Mose and his wife, Elizabeth protested, begging them not to take Till, offering “whatever you want to charge if you will just release him.” Their pleas were ignored, and Milam threatened to kill Wright if he were to tell on him and Bryant.   

Milam and Bryant put Emmett in the pickup truck and drove off. They spent the night torturing Emmett before killing him and dumping his body in the river.  

Despite the death threat that Mose Wright had received, he alerted the Leflore County sheriff later that day after Emmett failed to return. Milam and Bryant were quickly taken into custody. Both gave statements that they had kidnapped Emmett from Wright’s home but claimed to have let him go.  

Three days later, on August 31, a body was observed floating in the Tallahatchie River near Graball Landing. Mose Wright identified the recovered body as that of Emmett. The severely mutilated and decomposing body was identified only by a ring on the hand inscribed with the date May 25, 1943, and the initials “LT.” The ring had belonged to Emmett’s father, and his mother had given Emmett special permission to wear it during his trip so he could show friends and family.  

The sheriff ordered that Emmett’s body be promptly buried, but before it could be, Mamie Till-Mobley was alerted and insisted that his body be returned to Chicago. She then held a public viewing and open-casket funeral for Emmett at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ from September 3-6. Crowds of thousands came. Pictures of Emmett’s mutilated body also appeared in Jet, an African American weekly magazine. The nation, and even the world, could no longer ignore the deadly impact of racism and violence.  

Later that month, a trial for Emmett’s kidnappers and murderers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, was held in Sumner, Mississippi, at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse. The trial was a media sensation. Although there appeared to be overwhelming evidence of Bryant’s and Milam’s guilt, the two men were acquitted by an all male, all White jury. Later, they confessed to kidnapping and murdering Till in a magazine article, but double jeopardy prevented them from being retried. 

In 2004, the FBI reopened the case of Emmett’s lynching and exhumed his body. The reinvestigation was ultimately closed and did not result in any additional prosecutions. Despite ongoing demands for decades, justice has yet to be served for Emmett’s lynching. 


Emmett Till’s murder galvanized the modern civil rights movement and came to symbolize the African American struggle for equality. The tragedy also turned his mother, Mrs. Mamie Till-Mobley, into an important activist in the civil rights movement. She was an advocate against racist violence and injustice until her death in 2003.  

In 2008, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act was signed into law It allows for the investigation and prosecution in cold cases related to civil rights murders that occurred before 1979.   

Emmett Till’s memory and influence remains ever present today. In an essay written shortly before his death in 2020, US Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis wrote:  

"Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me."

In 2022, Congress passed landmark legislation making lynching a federal crime. It is named “The Emmett Till Antilynching Act.” 


“Mamie Bradley’s Untold Story.” Chicago Defender, February 27, 28, 29 and March 1, 5, 6. 

“Rites Held For Slain Boy; Blast Wrong Identity Claim.” Chicago Sun-Times, September 4, 1955.  

Till Mobley, Mamie and Christopher Bensen. The Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America. One World/Ballantine Books, 2003. 

Tyson, Timothy B. The Blood of Emmett Till. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.  


Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Last updated: August 7, 2023