The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative

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At 2:00 A.M. on August 28, 1955, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, visiting from Chicago, was abducted from his great-uncle’s cabin in Money, Mississippi, and never seen alive again. When his battered and bloated corpse floated to the surface of the Tallahatchie River three days later and two local white men were arrested for his murder, young Till’s death was primed to become the spark that set off the civil rights movement.

With a collection of more than one hundred documents spanning almost half a century, Christopher Metress retells Till’s story in a unique and daring way. Juxtaposing news accounts and investigative journalism with memoirs, poetry, and fiction, this documentary narrative not only includes material by such prominent figures as Hodding Carter, Chester Himes, Eleanor Roosevelt, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Eldridge Cleaver, Bob Dylan, John Edgar Wideman, Lewis Nordan, and Michael Eric Dyson, but it also contains several previously unpublished works—among them a newly discovered Langston Hughes poem—and a generous selection of hard-to-find documents never before collected.

Exploring the means by which historical events become part of the collective social memory, The Lynching of Emmett Till is both an anthology that tells an important story and a narrative about how we come to terms with key moments in history.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post

[A]nthologizes the Till case: the murder, the trial, the newspaper coverage, the struggle the killing sparked between racists and rights activists, and the passing of the case into the realms of both history and myth.

Quarterly Black Review

[R]iveting..In compiling the facts of the case, editor Christopher Metress has presented a full and complete account of one of America's most brutal hate crimes.

Juan WilliamsSenior CorrespondentNPR

The emotional power of Emmett Till's murder has never been stronger than in Christopher Metress's fascinating documentary narrative. Here are the facts as well as the myth. Here are the heroic lies told with the best intentions. Here are truths that have never been properly understood until now. Every American struggling to understand the mystery of race in America would do well to read this book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813921228
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Series: American South Series
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Metress, Associate Professor of English at Samford University, is the author of The Critical Response to Dashiell Hammett.

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Shifting Grounds of History and Memory 1
1 Discovery and Indictment
Two White Men Charged with Kidnaping Negro 14
Parents and Relatives Keep Silent in Case of Boy Charged with Ugly Remarks to Storekeeper[']s Wife 15
Muddy River Gives Up Body of Brutally Slain Negro Boy 16
Designed to Inflame 19
Mississippi Notebook: Our State a Target for Hate Campaign 22
A Lynch-Murder Aids Enemies of the South 25
Blood on Their Hands 25
End the Racist Conspiracy! 26
Meddling in Local Case Creates Problems 27
Mother's Tears Greet Son Who Died a Martyr 29
Mother Waits in Vain for Her "Bo" 30
50,000 Mourn at Bier of Lynched Negro Child 31
"Were Never into Meanness" Says Accused Men's Mother 34
Charleston Sheriff Says Body in River Wasn't Young Till 36
Grand Jury Gets Case: Troops Posted in Delta as Mob Violence Feared in Aftermath to Slaying 37
Lynching Post-Facto 38
Bad News for NAACP 40
Mississippi Notebook: Our People Have Behaved Mighty Well 40
2 The Trial
Jury Selection Reveals Death Demand Unlikely 45
Jim Crow Press at Till Trial 48
Wives Serious, Children Romp as Trial Begins 50
The Baby Sitter 53
Lynched Boy's Mother Sees Jurymen Picked 55
Jokes, Threats Are Blended at Tension-Packed Sumner 57
Grandstand Play Again 59
Roman Circus 60
Judge Swango Is Good Promoter for South 60
Heart of Darkness 62
He Went All the Way 65
Uncle of Till's Identifies Pair of Men Who Abducted Chicago Negro 68
Slain Boy's Uncle Identifies Bryant, Milam on Stand 74
Mother, "Surprise Witness" Give Dramatic Testimony: Mamie Bradley Says Corpse Was That of Her Slain Son [part 2] 75
Mother, "Surprise Witness" Give Dramatic Testimony: Mamie Bradley Says Corpse Was That of Her Slain Son [part 1] 79
Mother Insulted on Witness Stand 83
The Future 84
Youth Puts Milam in Till Death Barn 87
Judge Sends Jury Out of Courtroom during Testimony of Defendant Roy Bryant's Wife 89
Mrs. Bryant Tells How Northern Negro Grabbed Her, "Wolf-Whistled" in Store 92
Woman in Lynching Case Weaves Fantastic Story 96
Sheriff Strider's Testimony Raises Doubt Body in River Was Till Youth 97
Jury Hears Defense and Prosecution Arguments as Testimony Ends in Kidnap-Slaying Case 99
Called Lynch-Murder, "Morally, Legally" Wrong 101
Defendants Receive Handshakes, Kisses 104
2 Face Trial as "Whistle" Kidnapers - Due to Post Bond and Go Home 107
Mississippi Jungle Law Frees Slayers of Child 111
3 Post-Trial Reactions and Assessments
Fair Trial Was Credit to Mississippi 115
Acquittal 115
The Verdict at Sumner 116
Letter to the Editor 117
The Shame of Our Nation 118
The State of Mississippi Still Carries the Burden 119
Justice in Sumner 120
Langston Hughes Wonders Why No Lynching Probe 124
The Till Case Verdict 126
What You Can Do about the Disgrace in Sumner 127
A Careful, Last Look 128
Double Murder in Mississippi 130
Southern Style 131
Press Release, Office of the Honorable Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. 133
I Think the Till Jury Will Have Uneasy Conscience 136
Whose Circus? 137
Memo from the American Jewish Committee on European Reaction to the Till Case, 7 October 1955 138
Selected Letters to the Editor: From the Washington Afro-American 143
Selected Letters to the Editor: From the Baltimore Afro-American 144
Selected Letters to the Editor: From the Cleveland Call and Post 145
Selected Letters to the Editor: From the Memphis Commercial Appeal 146
Selected Letters to the Editor: From the Atlanta Constitution 151
4 Searching for the Truth
James L. Hicks's "Inside Story" of the Emmet Till Trial (series from Cleveland Call and Post)
Sheriff Kept Key Witness Hid in Jail During Trial 155
White Reporters Doublecrossed Probers Seeking Lost Witnesses 161
The Mississippi Lynching Story: Luring Terrorized Witnesses from the Plantations Was Toughest Job 168
Jimmy Hicks Tells Inside Story of Infamous Mississippi Lynch Case 173
Defender Tracks Down Mystery Till "Witnesses" 178
Here Is What "Too Tight" Said 182
An Open Letter To U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell and FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover 194
Emmett Till Is Alive 199
The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi 200
What's Happened to the Emmett Till Killers? 208
From Time Bomb: Mississippi Exposed and the Full Story of Emmett Till 213
5 Memoirs
From "Mamie Bradley's Untold Story" 226
From Wolf Whistle and Other Stories 235
From For Us, the Living 247
From Coming of Age in Mississippi 250
From Soul On Ice 257
From The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC 262
From My Soul's is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered 264
From "On Being Black and Middle Class" 265
Remembering Emmett Till 266
Growing Up White in the South: An Essay 270
From Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black 275
From Profiles in Black Courage 276
The Killing of Black Boys 278
6 Literary Explorations
Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old 291
Mississippi - 1955 293
The Money, Mississippi, Blues 294
A Cause for Justice 298
For Emmett Till 301
Blood on Mississippi 302
Mississippi 303
A Tribute to Emmett Till 309
For Moses Wright (Uncle of Emmett Louis Till) 310
Promotional Flyer for "A Good Place to Raise a Boy" 311
A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi, Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon 313
The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till 317
The Death of Emmett Till 318
Note for Blues 319
Till 321
Afterimages 323
Emmett Till 328
From 1935: A Memoir 333
Emmett Till and the Men Who Killed Him 336
The Lovesong of Emmett Till 339
Emmett Till 341
Can I Write of Flowers? 342
Afterword 346
Index 351
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