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The Blood of Emmett Till

The extraordinary New York Times bestseller that reexamines the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till

By Timothy B. Tyson
12-minute read
Audio available
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

The New York Times bestseller, The Blood of Emmett Till (2017), retells the horrific details of the abduction and lynching of a 14-year-old African-American boy in 1955. Emmett Till’s murder highlighted the realities of white terrorism in America, and helped catalyze the civil rights movement.

  • Anyone who wants to educate themselves on racial segregation in American history
  • People who want to know more of the birth of the civil rights movement
  • Students studying US history and race relations

Timothy B. Tyson is the author of Blood Done Sign my Name (2005), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the winner of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion and the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction. As a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, he teaches about religion, racial issues and civil rights in the South.

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The Blood of Emmett Till

By Timothy B. Tyson
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson
Synopsis

The New York Times bestseller, The Blood of Emmett Till (2017), retells the horrific details of the abduction and lynching of a 14-year-old African-American boy in 1955. Emmett Till’s murder highlighted the realities of white terrorism in America, and helped catalyze the civil rights movement.

Key idea 1 of 7

Racists in a segregated America were not afraid to kill for their ideology.

Throughout the twentieth century, the United States struggled to confront its history of slavery and to counteract prevalent racial prejudices. In the southern States, segregation, both legal and illegal, was ubiquitous.

Consequently, between 1910 and 1970, millions of African-Americans fled and migrated to the North from the American South. They settled in cities like Chicago, hoping for a better life.

But in these northern cities, too, separation of communities along race lines was common.

Such racial ghettoization was clearly indicative of the discrimination blacks faced. Violence against them was not uncommon.

Between 1910 and 1930, the number of African-Americans in Chicago doubled. Competition for housing and work was tough, especially with European immigrants.

Blacks were forced to live in ghettoized parts of Chicago’s South Side. Eventually, housing shortages forced black residents to move out into adjoining neighborhoods, which had previously been entirely white.

In 1949, a mob of whites, about 2000-strong, attacked a building belonging to a black couple in a white neighborhood on the South Side.

If you were black, any supposed transgression in this atmosphere could cost you your life.

This is how Emmett Till met his end, at the age of 14. In 1955, Till caught a train from Chicago to Mississippi to visit his great uncle and cousins. Till was unused to the extreme racism of the South, and made the mistake of flirting with Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, while she was working at her husband’s store.

She later told her attorney that Till had squeezed her hand, asked her out and boasted to her about sleeping with white women in the past.

Within days of the incident, Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant, and her brother-in-law, J. W. Milam, arrived at the house of Reverend Mose Wright, Till’s great uncle. They were brandishing guns. They were there for Till.

After lynching Emmett Till, they threw his body into the Tallahatchie River.

Carolyn Bryant, however, never expressed utter certainty that Till was the boy who’d talked her up at the store.

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