The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

America is still killing Emmet Till

In 2014, protestors ringed the White House, chanting ‘How many Black Kids will you kill? Michael Brown, Emmett Till! “Why did demonstrators invoke the name of a black boy murdered six decades before?

In 1955, white men in Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen year old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that public school segregation unconstitutional.

The national coalition organized to protest the Till lynching became the foundation of the modern civil rights movements. Only weeks later, Rosa Parks thought about young Emmett as she refused to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, the Emmett Till generation, forever marked by the vicious killing of a boy their own age, launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle into a mass movement. ‘I can’t hear the blood of Emmett Till as it calls from the ground,’ shouted a black preacher in Albany, Georgia.

But what actually happened to Emmett Till-not the icon of injustice but the flesh and blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till draws on a wealth of new evidence, including the only interview ever given by Carolyn Bryant, the white woman in whose name Till was killed. Tyson’s gripping narrative upends what we thought we knew about the most notorious racial crime in American History.

I found out about Timothy Tyson’s book, The Blood of Emmett Till through twitter. A friend informed me about it and luckily, I was able to get an ARC of the book from the publishers through NetGalley.

I didn’t know about Emmett Till until a few years ago when I came across a documentary about his death. Through online research, I was able to get more details about the murder and also see the photograph of the young man’s body as published by the press at that time, following his mother’s brave decision to show the world exactly what had been done to her son. Years later, I can still remember that image and the shock that I felt knowing just how much eveil human beings are capable of.

Tyson’s book gives more details about the murder and in particular the trial. It also contains snippets on a conversation with Carolyn which reveal that she may have lied about what really happened when she met Till at the store on that fateful day.

The bravery of a number of people is one thing that stood out for me about this story. These are the people who decided not to remain silent at the face of injustice. I was deeply moved by Till’s uncle and other black witnesses who decided to testify despite the threats on their lives. Tears filled my eyes when I read about Wright, Emmett’s uncle, bravely standing up in court and identifying the man who kidnapped his nephew. He pointed right at the man and said, that’s him.I can only imagine how scary it was for witnesses to speak again against the white murderers in a town filled with white supremacists. Their bravery helped in shedding light about what happened to Till. Speaking about bravery, I truly admire Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley. Devastated by her son’s death, Mamie still stood up to fight for justice. Her decision to bury Till in Chicago and have an open-casket funeral despite the threats and warnings definitely helped shape history and send a strong message to the white supremacists who thought that they could silence her.

Tyson’s book does not only focus on the murder and the trial. Through the chapters, the author mentions other cases and incidents that occurred during the period. The race relations are described in detail to give a vivid description of the political climate in the 1950s. For a reader (like me) unfamiliar with some of the details about the racism and segregation, it was shocking and really disturbing. I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever really understand racism or any other form of hate. There is just no way to justify it.

The book is well researched and hence quite informative especially for readers who may not have a lot of knowledge about American History. The author explains the political climate in the country in the 50s with details of the two opposing sides. The fact that there were people who actually fought FOR segregation really surprised me. As in for real, these folks were trying to protect segregation and fight against the change. Thankfully, they lost the battle.

I recommend The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson to anyone interested in learning more about Till’s murder and the circumstances that surrounded it. If you have an interest in American history and the civil rights movement then this is the book for you. To readers who are not familiar with the case, this book is insightful and it will help you understand what took place. The author not only explains the circumstances surrounding this devastating case but also provides details about the impact of the murder on the white supremacists and the effect that it had on those who mourned Till. Through the pages, we also get to learn how the murder shaped the course of history.

Towards the end of the book, the author makes a profound statement by illustrating how six decades later, America is still Killing Emmett Till. He puts the social injustices in the present context to demonstrate how they may be different from the 1950s but they are still happening. I thought of Trayvon Martin when I read the final chapters. It really does make you think, doesn’t it?

Compelling, detailed and very well written, definitely a powerful and important book.