Emmett Till


     In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black youth visiting family in Mississippi, was murdered by white men after XXXXX claimed that Till had propositioned her. Till, who was from Chicago, Illinois, visited relatives near Money, Mississippi, during the summer of 1955. On August 24 of that year, he entered XXXX’s Grocery & Meat Market and had an interaction with XXXXX, XXXXX. Accounts differ as to precisely what happened during that encounter. Black witnesses who had accompanied Till to the store reported—both near the time of the incident and more recently—that Till’s behavior was limited to whistling at XXXXX as she left the store. XXXXX, however, alleged that Till was physically aggressive towards her and that he propositioned her. What is clear from all accounts is that XXXXX suffered no physical harm and that Till’s conduct was likely perceived by many in the white community to violate their unwritten code, prevalent in the Jim Crow South, that Black men were forbidden from initiating interactions with white women. Four days later, Till was forcibly abducted from his relatives’ home by at least two men. His brutally beaten body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. Because there did not appear to be a basis for federal jurisdiction given the limited scope of the civil rights statutes in effect in 1955, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) did not investigate Till’s murder at that time. Mississippi state authorities, however, arrested two men:  XXXXX’s XXXX, Roy Bryant, and XXXX, John William (J.W.) Milam. They were indicted for murder and tried by a local, all-white jury, which quickly acquitted them. Following their acquittal, the men admitted to a journalist that they murdered Till in part because of his earlier actions toward XXXXX. Both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam are now deceased.

Case Open Date: 
Monday, December 6, 2021
Incident Date: 
Sunday, August 28, 1955
Case Name: 
Emmett Till
Industry Code: 
Civil Rights Division
Updated September 12, 2022