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The Blood of Emmett Till Summary

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The Blood of Emmett Till PDFBack in August 1955, Emmett Till was a handsome boy from Chicago visiting his relatives near Money, in the Mississippi Delta.

He had turned 14 just one month before that. He will never have the chance to celebrate another birthday.

Soon after arriving, he was abducted and lynched by two white men for supposedly making advances to a white girl.

The murderers were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Emmett Till, posthumously, became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

Timothy B. Tysons’ “The Blood of Emmett Till” retells the whole story – and, needless to add, it’s still chilling and gruesome.

Who Should Read “The Blood of Emmett Till”? And Why?

There are things men should never forget.

There is blood which – as Lady Macbeth knew full well – can never be wiped from our hands.

Emmett Till’s blood should be a constant reminder to each and every one us of the extent of man’s inhumanity to man – so that we can grow to become more human in the future.

“The Blood of Emmett Till” is for everyone who wants to learn something more about the history of America’s racial segregation – so that it is not repeated.

It’s also for those who want to find out more about the birth of the Civil Rights movement – since it deals with the year it began and the event which sprung it into existence.

Finally, it’s about those who’ve forgotten that racial equality is younger than our grandparents.

Timothy B. TysonAbout Timothy B. Tyson

Timothy B. Tyson is an American historian and writer, whose main specialty is the Civil Rights Movement.

He has joint appointments at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, and has won numerous teaching awards for his lectures.

In 2005, he authored “Blood Done Sign My Name,” an autobiographical work which chronicled the murder of Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old Vietnam War veteran; Timothy Tyson was a childhood friend of one of his murderers’ younger son.

“Blood Done Sign My Name” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a prize for which “The Blood of Emmett Till” was longlisted twelve years later.

“The Blood of Emmett Till PDF Summary”

Have you ever heard of a woman named Carolyn Bryant?

Probably not.

Even so, this currently 80-year-old woman has supposedly already written a memoir of exceptional significance which we already know will be the #1 bestseller in 2036 since it should finally set some records straight concerning the 1955 death of a teenager.The Blood of Emmett Till PDF

His name: Emmett Till.

You’ve probably heard it by now, and even if you haven’t, something tells us that you must have seen the most famous photograph of him.

There it is on the left.

A handsome black boy at fourteen, seductively smiling under a hat and peering somewhere out of focus.

He looks as if he has all the time in the world to become something exceptional and great.

Unfortunately, just eight months after this photograph was taken, Emmett Till was brutally lynched for making advances at a white lady in her family’s grocery store in Money, Mississippi.

The name of the lady?

Carolyn Bryant.

Her side of the story?

Well, as Timothy B. Tyson reveals in “The Blood of Emmett Till” – giving us a preview of her unpublished memoir (he is the only person to have read at least some portions of it) – there’s basically no such thing anymore.

Carolyn Bryant, who once claimed that Emmett Till grabbed her by her hand and uttered obscenities in her ear, has now recanted her testimony:

Till was born on July 25, 1941, in Chicago, where he was raised in a loving family. Fourteen years later, in August 1955, he went to visit his great-uncle Mose Wright and his cousins in Money, Mississippi.

His mother, Mamie Bradley, had warned him that Money is no Chicago and that he must be very careful when addressing white people.

White women especially.

Because, as we learned few years later from Harper Lee’s masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Emmett Till, in fact, may have been a model for Tom Robinson), in the South, if you were black and were seen with a white woman back in the 1950s, it was basically a little short of a death sentence.

Because no one would have believed you that you weren’t trying to rape the woman.

Well, Emmett Till was raised in the North and, consequently, acted a bit more freely around white people.

Possibly challenged by some friends who didn’t believe this to be true, after entering Carolyn Bryant’s grocery store to buy some candy, he allegedly started chasing her around and asking her for a date.

Even more – he may have wolf-whistled on the way out!

Ah, the audacity of that mischievous 14-year-old boy!

Rob Bryant, Carolyn’s husband (who probably physically abused her), would have none of it.

He aggressively questioned several people (mostly blacks) and then finally found out that the boy’s identity.

Late that evening (in fact, in the early morning hours), he and his half-brother J. W. Milam went to the house of Mose Wright and abducted Emmett Till at gunpoint.

Supposedly, they didn’t intend to kill him.

Just to beat him up severely.

However, as J. W. Milam revealed in an interview for “Look” magazine just a year after Emmett Till’s murder, they were angered by the fact that Emmett Till called them “bastards” while they were beating him.

And especially by the fact that he considered himself their equal.

In Milman’s words:

I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights.

I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.’

Bryant and Milam brought Emmett Till to a barn and killed him.

Afterward, they dumped his body, attached to a 32kg cotton gin fan, in the waters of the Tallahatchie River.

Fortunately, Emmett’s body rose to the surface, and a young white boy discovered him.

The face of Emmett was so badly misshapen that, when the authorities arrived, they weren’t even sure if it had been the face of a human being.

One of Emmett’s eyes was dangling from its socket; the other was missing; the skull had been crushed so violently that pieces of it fell at the slightest touch.

We would have included a photograph here instead of trying to describe to you the ghastly sight, but, we’ve seen that image once before, and we don’t want to look at it again.

However, if you want to, feel free to google it.

Don’t say that we didn’t warn you.

Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, wanted her boy’s body shipped back to Chicago, even though, due to its condition, a quiet and unseen funeral seemed to everybody in Money like the best idea.

Especially to the local sheriff, H. C. Strider, who wanted to conceal everything.

Not Mamie: she arranged an open-casket burial – so that everybody could see what they did to her 14-year-old son.

And, for the first time in Mississippi’s history, somebody took notice of the death of a young black boy. Magazines started publishing photographs of the body, newspapers told of fainting mourners.

And, today, you can’t even imagine what difference that made!

Just for a comparison: a decade and a half before Emmett, two black boys of his age were hanged by an angry mob from a bridge which, based on the sheer numbers of African Americans killed on it, was basically a lynching site.

No one took notice.

It was nothing new for the South, nothing that anyone should bother about.

The photographs of Emmett Till’s body changed that.


Emmett Till’s death was an extreme example of the logic of America’s national racial caste system. To look beneath the surface of these facts is to ask ourselves what our relationship is today to the legacies of that caste system – legacies that still end the lives of young African Americans for no reason other than the color of their American skin and the content of our national character.

Recall that Faulkner, asked to comment on the Till case when he was sober, responded, ‘If we in America have reached the point in our desperate culture where we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t.’ Ask yourself whether America’s predicament is really so different now.

Emmett Till’s death changed the outlook of the whites so much that Bryant and Milam were even charged with murder.

“So much” – because, up to that moment, it was basically unheard of that a black man (Emmett’s great-uncle) can accuse two white men of killing an African American boy in the South. The moment he did that – standing up and pointing in the direction of Milam saying “There he is” was described by a reporter as “the most dramatic thing” imaginable.

“Even” – because, unfortunately, that’s where the story ends: Milam and Bryant were acquitted by an all-white all-male jury after a 67-minute deliberation.

The whites in the courtroom applauded.

Judge Curtis M. Swango sighed a sigh of relief.

Luckily, history had the last say.

Emmett Till soon became an icon of the Civil Rights movement.

In fact, just three months after he was brutally murdered, a 42-year-old woman refused to give up her sit on the bus and move to its redesignated colored section.

“I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back,” said Rosa Parks later.

And that’s how the Civil Rights Movement began.

Key Lessons from “The Blood of Emmett Till”

1.      Rob Bryant and J. W. Milam Didn’t Kill Emmett Till – Systematic Racism Did
2.      Carolyn Bryant May Have Also Been a Victim – Just Like Many Whites
3.      Racial Segregation Is Still a Thing – So Don’t Act Like It Isn’t

Rob Bryant and J. W. Milam Didn’t Kill Emmett Till – Systematic Racism Did

On the surface, It’s a straightforward case:

Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Rob Bryant, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, killed Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy because he supposedly made advances at Carolyn.

Below it, however, it’s much more serious:

Emmett Till’s murder is not merely an event; it’s more of a symbol, a synecdoche for something much bigger and scarier. Because his murder was only one of the hundreds which were regularly happening in the South before the Civil Rights Movement.

For the simple reason that nobody considered that killing an African American is synonymous with killing another human being.

Carolyn Bryant May Have Also Been a Victim – Just Like Many Whites

After she found out that Timothy B. Tyson was writing a book about the murder of Emmett Till, Carolyn Bryant found him to tell him that her testimony from 1955 was partly fictional.

You see, she didn’t have an easy time herself: she was taught from a very early age that all blacks are rapists.

In fact, when she was 14 years old, her aunt ordered her to dismount from the bike of her black friend Barnes, because “people will talk.”

A few years later, when she was courted by Roy Bryant, he took her to “the hanging tree,” a place where blacks were hanged for supposed wrongdoings.

Roy was part of a hard-drinking white supremacist family, so it’s highly likely that Carolyn was forced to testify the way she did.

Racial Segregation Is Still a Thing – So Don’t Act Like It Isn’t

Emmett Till was murdered more than half a century ago, but Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and many others were murdered just a few years back.

So, white or black, don’t act like the fight for equality is over.

Because it’s not.

And we’re all part of it.

Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app, for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.

“The Blood of Emmett Till Quotes”

Somewhere between the fact we know and the anxiety we feel is the reality we live. Click To Tweet

Because if we in America have reached the point in our desperate culture where we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t. Click To Tweet

It was like watching a community you thought you knew reveal itself as something else. Click To Tweet

Some things are worse than death... If a man lives, he must still live with himself. Click To Tweet

The things that influenced my conduct as a Negro did not have to happen to me directly; I needed but to hear about them to feel their full effects in the deepest layers of my consciousness. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Atlantic Monthly has described “The Blood of Emmett Till” as “a critical book… [that] manages to turn the past into prophecy and demands that we do the one vital thing we aren’t often enough asked to do with history: learn from it.”

So, please – read this book. It’ both insightful and relevant.

And it may change your opinion on some important issues.

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