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of the victories notched in Till’s name ― in the realms of housing equality, education and voting rights ― have been rescinded through targeted policies and court rulings.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





AJ, 16, – Chicago


Growing up, I got the police talk before I got the “birds and the bees” talk … And it’s not like every adult around me trained me to think, “No, police are bad. Don’t like them.” I just had my own experiences where I thought, “Why are you treating me like this? For what?”

Feeling powerless that many times growing up can make you angry all the time. It puts fear in your heart, for real. And for black kids, growing up trying to have pride and everything, it’s just a messed up way to live, especially when you’re young and you’re worried about getting hurt just for being you.



Ari, 17 – New York City


Trayvon Martin was, for me, this kind of eye-opening moment when I saw that being black is a legitimate disadvantage. That was the moment when I actually recognized race — recognized that it would be a problem for me. I was so young when it happened. Beforehand, I hadn’t heard of anybody like Emmett Till or really anything like that.




My dad taught me how to kind of adjust my blackness to kind of assimilate into an environment. Like in New Hampshire, I have to be cognizant about whether everything I say is “grammatically correct” so I pass as what I guess is articulate and not “the black guy who doesn’t know anything.”

I’m 17. I was raised in New York but I spent the beginning of my childhood in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and I can sort of see the difference in my experiences in all those places. In New York, there is a lot of focus on diversity and teaching us about microaggressions and white fragility. I mean, all that stuff has been articulated to me a good amount, which I think has helped me talk about the issues and help white people around me. But I also spent a lot of time in New Hampshire, and there, in a state that’s almost totally white, I recognize how different it is. The implicit racism kind of works so that unless something obviously tragic and racist happens, if you try to fight against racism you get a lot of retaliation.