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Mamie Till: refusing the coverup of her son’s lynching

By the summer of 1955, Mamie Till was a hard-working single mother of a teenage boy. They lived in Chicago. Mamie often worked long hours and her son, Emmett, tried hard to help with errands and chores around the house. He wanted to spend the end of the summer in Money, Mississippi visiting his cousins. After lengthy discussions with other family members, Mamie—somewhat reluctantly, because of concern for her son’s safety—agreed.

On August 28, 1955, Mamie received a phone call: Emmett had been abducted in the middle of the night. No one knew where he was. Three days later she received another call: his body had been found. He was dead. Emmett had whistled and/or said, “Bye, baby!” to a white woman working in a grocery store. In response, Roy Bryant (the woman’s husband) and John Milam (Bryant’s half-brother) took Emmett from his uncle’s home, beat him beyond recognition, shot him in the head, tied his naked corpse to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire, and threw him in the Tallahatchie River. He had been identified only by the ring he was wearing.
The local sheriff wanted the body buried as quickly as possible. Mamie fought to have it returned to her in Chicago. It was returned in a sealed coffin, with orders that it remain sealed. Mamie insisted that it be opened. She wanted to see her son. She decided there must be an open casket funeral. “Let the world see what I’ve seen,” she said.

There is more to this story, told by Catherine Shenton