The Murder of Emmett Till

The Murder of Emmett Till examines the killing of a 14-year-old black boy for whistling at a white woman in the Deep South in 1955, and the subsequent acquittal of his killers.   This is the true story of a boy from Chicago who traveled south to Mississippi to visit relatives. He whistled at a white woman in a store, and three days later was kidnapped at night, beaten to a pulp, shot and thrown into a river. The two men who did this were acquitted by an all white jury, and then bragged about how they murdered him in a Look magazine article. This was several months before the Rosa Parks bus boycott and is considered the spark that started the America’s civil rights movement.  Till’s death sent shockwaves throughout the world.  Activists organized after Till’s mother let national newspapers run pictures of her mangled son. I am glad Emmett’s mother had the courage to leave the casket open for the world to view what a terrible form hatred can take. Of course the topic is a terrible one but the overall story true…so we need to know it. The film did a good job in providing an overview of the tragic events surrounding the life and murder of Emmett Till. It’s a good introduction to a horrific episode in American history. It’s difficult for younger Americans to appreciate just how brutal the Southern way of life was for blacks before civil rights, and Mississippi was the worst. Emmett was obviously raised by an honorable mother who was far superior, in brains and character, to the Southern louts who killed him for a (to us) minor transgression. It’s hard for us today to imagine just what a big deal that transgression was in the 1950s South.   The footage of the uneducated Southerners who were responsible for the murder and acquittal filled me with contempt. It’s truly unfathomable that grown men could somehow justify kidnapping, beating and murdering a young boy, and that a jury could find them innocent despite overwhelming evidence. The two men who later confessed to Look magazine were protected by double jeopardy.  Shame on President Eisenhower for not re-opening the case after the two murderers admitted to the media, post-acquittal, just how they had carried out the entire brutal deed.  Emmett Till’s murder could’ve been swept under the rug, but his mother decided to have an open casket viewing, and Jet magazine ran photos of the body. The pictures galvanized the world, and the spark was lit for righteous Americans of all colors to try to change the unwritten code of black persecution.  Be warned, there are some upsetting pictures of lynchings and Emmett Till’s body (which are necessary to appreciate the brutality of this Southern system). The scenes of Emmett’s mutilated face, almost unrecognizable as a human being, were tremendously saddening.  This is the most disturbing movie or documentary I’ve ever watched. It gave me nightmares. My eyes still fill with tears when I think about it.  I am a Chicago native who visited with my grandfather to his native Delta Mississppi. I was just eight years old, and it was an experience to remember. Though there were no immediate physical threats, the atmosphere was thick with judgment. I was told to be respectful, and to stay close (joined to the hip practically) to family wherever we were. I didn’t understand why until we got to Mississippi. I was raised to be respectful — but to not feel as though I was equal to these strangers who could do what they pleased to me was a bad feeling, and for that it was hard for me to render respect to them. I don’t hate any race, but I do hate prejudice in anyone of any race. I’m proud to be a free African-American and wouldn’t ask to be any different.  This is a story that needs to be told over and over–we have made a great deal of progress but the more recent lynchings of Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd demonstrate that we are not there yet.  Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, deserves a 10-foot statue and sainthood for having the guts and the foresight to show the world what Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam did to her baby. I suggest placing the statue in the exact center of Money, Mississippi.  Mamie Till will humble you.  This documentary is very powerful and disturbing and about an event that many people don’t know about. I’m in my mid-40s and grew up in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. But I never heard of Emmett Till until I saw this documentary. The event is so awful as to be almost unbelievable.  It is truly an American disgrace that lies directly at the feet of our so-called ‘justice system’, involving President Eisenhower and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. I’m sure it has happened over and over again, although maybe not in a court room or so publicly. Let this event live forever in our memories as truly shameful, not to ever be repeated.  It should be required viewing in every classroom.  Stanley Nelson’s documentary does a brilliant job of driving home just how second-nature, and socially approved, white violence against blacks was in the South. Before delving into the inhuman tragedy of young Emmett Till’s murder, he shows us a sequence of photos of lynchings – in each case, with the white murderers posing proudly next to the mangled corpse, fully aware that they face no remote threat of legal punishment. Another enlightening scene comes during the farcical trial of Till’s killers, when a black man outside the courthouse is interviewed by a TV reporter. To every question (‘Does he feel there’s enough evidence to convict’, ‘what verdict does he expect’, etc.) he offers the same answer, with the same blank, childlike grin on his face: “I dunno, sir.” Essentially, he has to present himself as incapable of thought or opinion, because he knows if he makes any statement that hints at criticism of the white system, his will be the next bloody disfigured body fished out of the river. Wake up, America. Watch this movie and learn about your country. Ask yourself if, only one single generation removed from the atmosphere of terror in which so many of our black citizens had to live, they should be expected to feel total comfort within our society, as if these realities never existed. For 53 minutes, do yourself the service of watching this documentary that highlights the event that many cite as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. It is a prized collection of documents and interviews from the people that were a part of this horrific moment in our collective history.  Another documentary about this subject titled The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till is much more thorough in its details. This was a quick skim over the top. No one should miss watching these documentaries!  I warn you, if you are sensitive at all it will affect you. But it needs to be seen by everyone. The pictures of Till’s corpse and the story of his torture gave me nightmares. Even though horribly graphic, I made myself watch to try and understand the suffering and hatred that black people in our country endured. It is unfathomable.  Documentary American Experience 2003 NR 53 minutes.


Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

Freedom Riders

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Help

Hoop Dreams

Election of Barack Obama


Custom Search


Must-See Movies—For What You Need to Know