For many, the name Emmett Till may not
sound familiar, but what happened to him in 1955
stunned the nation, causing shock waves that still
Till was a 14-year-old black youngster who was
murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white
woman. His death was a spark that ignited the civil
rights movement in America. Two white men were
put on trial for killing him, but in spite of strong
evidence against them, an all-white jury acquitted
them in about an hour.
This past spring, the U.S. Justice Department opened
a new investigation, based on evidence suggesting
that more than a dozen people may have been
involved in the murder of Till, and that at least five of
them are still alive. Those five could face criminal
prosecution. Correspondent Ed Bradley reports.
Till was only 14 when he was kidnapped, tortured
and killed. The two men who were acquitted of his
murder were Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W.
The failure to punish anyone for the crime made
headlines across the country and around the world,
exposing the racial hatred and unequal justice for
blacks that was pervasive in the segregated South,
where laws dictated where blacks could eat, drink
But Till wasn’t from the South. He was from
Chicago, and he was visiting relatives in Mississippi
in August of 1955, when his nightmare began. Till’s
16-year-old cousin, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., traveled
to Mississippi with him. The family was reluctant to
let Emmett take the trip, afraid his free-spirited nature
could get him into trouble in the deep South.
"He was the center of attraction. He loved pranks, he
loved fun, he loved jokes. You know, he just was
there in the center of everything. He was kind of a
natural-born leader," says Parker, now 65.
Why would that be a problem? "In Mississippi," says
Parker, laughing. "It'd be a problem because the
Mississippians, what he thought was just fun, or a
joke, wasn't funny to them."
Did he prepare Till with how he should behave in
Mississippi? "Oh yes, that's routine," says Parker.
"You're always prepared to go to Mississippi to stay
alive. Because once you got to Mississippi, you had
no protection under the law. You couldn't call anyone
for help, once you were there, if you got in trouble."
For Till, the trouble started at Bryant's meat market
and grocery store in Money, Miss. Back then, most of
the customers at this store were black workers from
nearby cotton plantations. A white couple, Roy
Bryant and his 21-year-old wife, Carolyn, owned the
store. She was behind the counter the afternoon that
Till and his cousins came in to buy some candy. As
he was leaving the store, Till whistled at Carolyn, and
she went to get a gun.
Till's cousin, Simeon Wright, was only 12 on the day