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In Remembrance of Emmett Till

Regional Stories and Media Responses to the Black Freedom Struggle

Darryl Mace

Publication Year: 2014

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

Fourteen-year-old Emmett Louis Till left his mother’s Chicago home on August 20, 1955, to vacation with his great-uncle Moses Wright and his family in Mississippi.1 Till spent several uneventful days playing with his cousins and learning to pick cotton. At the end of the week, he and some relatives traveled to the nearby whistle-stop town of Money, Mississippi, to shop. Reports about what happened differ, and each story has contributed...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

While never referred to as the 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—...

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1. Emmett Till's America

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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...

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2. August Nights

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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 ...

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3.Home Going

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pp. 47-66

Emmett Till’s brutal 1955 murder exposed the malignant cancer of racial hatred rapidly metastasizing across the South in the wake of Brown 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,...

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4. "M Is for Mississippi and Murder"

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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...

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5. Trial by Print

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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,...

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6. Galvanizing the Emmett Till Generation

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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...

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7. In Remembrance of Emmett Till

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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 ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 153-156

I am grateful that I was first introduced to the Emmett Till lynching, and the print media coverage of the event, in an undergraduate speech communications class taught by Deborah Atwater. I was intrigued by the case, and I always thought I wanted to know more about it. Little did I know that my undergraduate curiosity would lead to this book. This manuscript represents...

Notes

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pp. 157-184

Bibliography

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pp. 185-206

Index

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pp. 207-212

Further Reading

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pp. 213-214


E-ISBN-13: 9780813145389
E-ISBN-10: 0813145384
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813145365

Page Count: 228
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century