On August 28, 1955—eight years before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—Emmett Till was murdered in Money, Miss. for allegedly flirting with a white store clerk, Carolyn Bryant.
Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half brother J. W. Milam kidnapped the 14-year-old Chicagoan from his great uncle’s home and beat him, shot him in the head, tied his body to a large metal cotton gin fan with barbed wire and dropped him into the Tallahatchie River. Three days later the teenager’s bloated, mutilated body was pulled from the river.
Till’s mother, Mamie, insisted on an open-casket funeral for her only son so that the world might see the brutality he suffered. Two black publications, Jet and The Chicago Defender, ran pictures of Till’s casket.
Despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt, the two white men who killed Emmett Till were acquitted by an all-white jury. They went on to sell the story of murdering the teenager to Look magazine for $4,000.
The horrific death of Emmett Till is largely credited with intensifying the push for black voter registration in Mississippi and serving as a catalyst for the civil rights movement in general.