Key Moments in the Fight for Civil Rights

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August, 1955 – Emmett Till’s Murder


Left: Emmett Till, about eight months before his death. Right: Emmett Till's body at the open-casket funeral.

An African-American teen from Chicago is visiting relatives in Mississippi when he makes a fatal mistake. By whistling at a white woman in a grocery store, Emmett Till breaks the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South. Three days later, two white men drag him from his bed and brutally murder him. In Chicago, Till’s mother makes the fateful decision to let the world see what has happened to her son, and has an open-casket funeral. Thousands witness the brutality the boy suffered, and photos are published and disseminated nationwide in Jet magazine. Despite national outrage and the testimony of eyewitnesses, Mississippi finds the two accused killers not guilty at trial. A short time later, safe from being tried twice for the same crime, the men admit their guilt and describe details of the lynching in Look magazine. Till’s death and his killers’ acquittal help ignite the civil rights movement.



Much of this text is excerpted, with permission, from the website for the American Experience series Eyes on the Prize. Read more about these events and others on that site.

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