Emmett Till Was Killed 63 Years Ago. These Black Boys Feel His Legacy Every Day.

For the anniversary of Till’s murder, HuffPost talked to six young black men from around the country

By Ja’han Jones | HuffPost | 08/28/2018


Aug. 28 marks 63 years since the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. In 1955, Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old white woman, falsely claimed the black boy had touched her while making sexual advances. Afterward, Bryant’s husband and his half-brother savagely beat Till and then shot him to death and cast him into Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River.

Despite overwhelming evidence that Howard Bryant and John Milam murdered and mutilated Till, an all-white jury acquitted the two men after roughly an hour of deliberation.

Speeches across the country eulogized Till. Photos of his bloated body seared the boy into memory and signaled that a country founded on white racial grievances was still a profoundly dangerous place for black people.

Yet in the half-century since the teen’s murder, many of the victories notched in Till’s name ― in the realms of housing equality, education and voting rights ― have been rescinded through targeted policies and court rulings. Meanwhile, advancements in technology ― namely, portable recording devices and social media platforms to share what they’ve logged ― have captured the sort of lethal white racial angst largely obscured in the decades since Till’s death.

With that, the killings of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis and others have put new faces on black anguish. Adding to this anxiety, white people have been repeatedly reporting black people to police for merely existing in public ― from waiting in coffee shops to holding cookouts. This surveillance has effectively set parameters around where black people can operate comfortably, without scrutiny from their white peers and law enforcement.

For the anniversary of Till’s murder, HuffPost talked to six young black men from around the country to ask how they’ve internalized these stories of surveillance and what — if anything — they have been instructed to do to avoid the fates of the black boys they’ve seen on television and in history books.

Emmett Till is photographed lying on his bed. 

Emmett Till photographed laying in bed. Photograph Getty  Images