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The Blood of Emmett Till

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In 1955, white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of white terrorism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared public school segregation unconstitutional. 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, Black students who called themselves “the Emmett Till generation” launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle for civil rights into a mass movement. Till’s lynching became the most notorious hate crime in American history.

But what actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice, but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, drawing on a wealth of new evidence, including a shocking admission of Till’s innocence from the woman in whose name he was killed. this book provides fresh insight into the way race has informed and deformed our democratic institutions.

305 pages, Hardcover

First published January 31, 2017

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About the author

Timothy B. Tyson

8 books185 followers
Timothy B. Tyson is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School, and adjunct professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina. He is the author of The Blood of Emmett Till, a New York Times bestseller; Blood Done Sign My Name, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, as well as the basis for a feature film; and Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power, winner of the James Rawley Prize for best book on race and the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in US History from the Organization of American Historians, and the basis for the prize-winning documentary Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power. He serves on the executive board of the North Carolina NAACP and the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,190 reviews
Profile Image for jv poore.
616 reviews212 followers
June 7, 2023
Emmett Till's story is being made into a movie, Till, which will focus on his mother's actions.

I've shared THE BLOOD OF EMMETT TILL with 'my' high school students for the past few years. To tell Emmett's story and to highlight his mother's courageous actions. This woman grabbed her grief and wielded it like a weapon. She made sure that every single soul the three television networks could reach saw the battered body of her boy. If she did not spark a revolution, she surely fanned the flames.
Profile Image for Erin .
1,274 reviews1,199 followers
February 23, 2017
Black Lives DON'T Matter.

This country has been going out of its way to prove that for centuries and continues till this very day. Black Lives have never mattered. Emmett Till may have been murdered over 60 years ago but in reality this country is still killing him today.

In Letters from a Birmingham Jail Dr. King writes that his worst enemies are not members of The Klan but "white moderates" who claim to support the goals of the movement but deplores its methods of protest.

Emmett Till became a martyr to the cause of Civil Rights 60 plus years ago and unfortunately we've lost the battle. November's election proved that. The President of the United States spent 8 years trying to prove that the 1st African-American President was a Kenyan Muslim. The new President seems to believe that all black people live in crime ridden, poverty stricken hellholes. This same man named as his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A man who was deemed too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980's. A man who thinks The NAACP is unamerican, called black attorneys boy, and white civil rights attorneys race traitors. So yes America we get it now Black Lives Don't Matter and neither do the Lives of LGBTQ people or the Lives of Immigrants.

I encourage everyone to read up on Emmett Till it doesn't have to be this book but please read about this child who was brutally tortured and killed for "maybe" whistling at a white woman. He was 14 years old and this country let his killers walk free because this child got what he deserved.

Popsugar Reading Challenge: Read a Book Recommended by a Librarian.
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,598 reviews2,309 followers
November 2, 2017
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson is an audible book I got from the library and I am not sure I am glad or not. I knew the story but not the details. I wanted to know but didn't want to know. It was so horrific, I didn't know if I could stand to hear it, to know that people stood by and let murderers go free. Did I want to live it? I did want to know because the world is turning backwards in any progress that has been made. Those of us that want the world to live in peace have to spread the word that Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr preached, not the trash that is vomited from the WH tweets.
I listened to the book and cried. The book may have pictures but since I had the audible version I googled Emmett's pictures. What a handsome young man! What a shame. The book is filled with details as to why he was there and not in Chicago. The "witnesses", later to claim it never happened. All the details of the times, the town, the people involved. How they got away with murder and three weeks later confessed but couldn't be convicted then. (Sold their story to Look magazine.)
All because he whistled at a woman.
I wonder what they would think if they knew we would have a rich, nasty man that brags about how many times he grabs women by their...
and people voted this same scumbag to be the leader of the country...what is wrong with this country?
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews185 followers
February 6, 2017
"We cannot transcend our past without confronting it."

"How do you give a crash course in hatred to a boy who has only known love?"
-- Mamie Till, mother of Emmett Till

Emmett Till. The boy whose lynching galvanized a global movement. Right now, the media seems to be afire with one of the revelations of this book: that Carolyn Bryant has finally admitted that she lied and that Emmett Till never accosted her. Other than her admission, that's not exactly a surprise. So what is the story of Emmett Till? While on a trip to Mississippi from his home in Chicago, he stopped in at Carolyn Bryant's store and bought candy from her. He may have said something pert to her. He may have put the money directly in her hand--physical contact, a taboo in Mississippi--rather than leaving it on the counter. He wolf whistled when she ran out after him in a fury to get the gun out of her car. JW Milam and Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant's husband and brother-in-law, pulled Emmett Till from his house, beat and whipped him for hours until his face and body were pulp, shot him in the head, tied his body with wire to a 74-pound industrial fan, and threw it into the Tallahatchie River.

Here are the murderers, celebrating as they escape justice:

Before she changed her story to attempted rape to provide an indefensible defense for a lynch mob, Bryant originally said only that Till "insulted" her. When her husband and brother-in-law came to lynch Emmett, they demanded that the family produce the boy who had done the "smart talk." This pretense of the "mystery" of Emmett Till's case is and always has been utterly fatuous. As Carolyn Bryant herself said,
"Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him."

The story of Emmett Till is so short, so heartbreaking. But the story of what comes after is both terrible and uplifting, and Timothy Tyson does the story justice. He starts by laying out the political backdrop, a necessary step to explain the meaning of Emmett Till's death to his killers and to those who mourned him. Emmett Till was not a naif to the world of bigotry and racism. Chicago was one of the most racially divided cities in America, and throughout his childhood, guerilla warfare raged over attempted housing desegregation. Dawson and Daley may have given lip service to equality, but they actively maintained segregation because it furthered their political ends. In both Chicago, as in Mississippi, black families kept loaded firearms in close reach, knowing that a lynch mob could burst through the door at any minute.

Mississippi, on the other hand, "outstripped the rest of the nation in virtually every measure of lynching." Vagrancy, a.k.a. "Jobless while Black," was treated as a crime, and through the convict leasing programs, black "criminals" were leased out to plantations as slave labor. To get the ballot, prospective black voters were forced to answer questions like, "Do you want your children to go to school with white children?" or "Are you a member or do you support the NAACP?" Citizens' Councils, white supremacy groups formed in the wake of Brown v Board of Education, terrorized African Americans with "personal visits" and by publishing their names, addresses, and phone numbers in newspapers. As with the present practice of doxxing, lynch mobs were never far behind. And it worked. As Tyson notes, "In the seven counties with a population more than 60 percent black, African Americans cast a combined total of two votes in 1954."

Citizens' councils were obsessed with maintaining white supremacy in the face of the federal government's decrees, and for them, as Tyson puts it, "The unsullied Southern white woman became the most important symbol of white male superiority." Emmett's death was, for his murderers, about keeping African-Americans in their place, and fearmongers used the "the old song of the Bruised Southern Lily and the Black Beast Rapist" to whip whites into hysterical furor. As J.W. Milam, one of Till's murderer's, put it:
"As long as I live and can do anything about it, n** are going to stay in their place. N** ain't gonna vote where I live. If they did, they'd control the government. They ain't gonna go to school with my kids. And when a n** even gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him."
Interviews showed later that none of the jurors ever doubted that Milam and Bryant were guilty, but they simply didn't consider the murder of a black boy who insulted a white woman to be a crime.

Emmett's death came after a host of assassinations of various civil rights leaders whose murders were treated as "accidents." Despite the coroner's verdict, the mutilations, the bullet, the fan hog-tied to the body, the local newspapers still termed the death an "odd accident" and Sheriff Shelton claimed that the bullet fragments were "most likely filings from his teeth" and put about the theory that the whole case was a fake concocted by the NAACP. If it hadn't been for Mamie Till, Emmett's death would have been just another lynching. But her strength and determination and courage transformed his death into "a watershed historical moment." As she said,
"I took the privacy of my own grief and turned it into a public issue, a political issue, one which set in motion the dynamic force that ultimately led to a generation of social and legal progress for this country."

The Blood of Emmett Till is an exceptional work. Not only does it bring humanity to the major players; it also vividly details the political and cultural backdrop and the global movement that Mamie Till and her allies galvanized. The writing and story are so compelling that I found myself racing through it like a thriller, even though I knew the outcome. Tyson captures the pathos, but also the hope, the bravery, the valiant actions of the witnesses who, like Moses Wright, stood in front of a white court and accused a white man.

If you want a better understanding of racism and the Civil Rights movement, add The Blood of Emmett Till to your list. I'll leave you with a quote:
"That we blame the murderous pack is not the problem; even the idea that we can blame the black boy is not so much the problem, though it is absurd. The problem is why we blame them: we do so to avoid seeing that the lynching of Emmett Till was caused by the nature and history of America itself and by a social system that has changed over the decades, but not so much as we pretend. [...]
Ask yourself whether America's predicament is really so different now. [...]
We are still killing black youth because we have not yet killed white supremacy."

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from Simon & Schuster in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the book as a whole.~~

Cross-posted on BookLikes.
Profile Image for Beverly.
833 reviews314 followers
April 20, 2018
If Timothy Tyson's telling of Emmitt Till's brutal torture and killing had been as impassioned throughout as it was in the last chapter I would give it 5 stars, but it was not. The last chapter is an impassioned plea for progress against hate and the United State's institutionalization of racism.I

I already knew about 14 year old Emmitt Till's murder at the hands of white supremacists that was the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement from the brilliant PBS series, Eyes on the Prize. Tyson does bring one new item to the story, he interviewed Carolyn Bryant, the white woman at the center of it, who Emmitt whistled at, and was the impetus for his killing by her husband and brother-in-law.
I would have thought that the author could have done a little more digging, perhaps all of the people from that time are dead, but there was a young black man who was a witness at the trial who was only 18 at the time. Perhaps, he could have been tracked down as well?
Tyson relies on the trial excerpts to tell the details and headlines and newspaper articles from the period, but he brings no skin to the game. His telling us dry and clinical until the last chapter. When I saw the story on PBS I was riveted, horrified, and griefstricken. This account is very unemotional until the last and I would have liked to have experienced the No! that I felt while watching this powerful and must-be-told story.
Profile Image for Stacey.
881 reviews161 followers
May 9, 2019
This is an amazing, well documented book even though it made my blood boil with anger. Emmett Till is a 14 yo boy living in Chicago who went to visit his uncle in Mississippi. His mother warned him to be respectful to everyone all the time. He went to the corner store to buy candy and started talking to the white lady, Carolyn Bryant, at the counter. She then reported that he physically accosted her and verbally disrespected her. Her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half brother, JW Milam, kidnapped Emmett from his home and severely beat, shot, and dumped his body in the river. He was beat so bad he was unrecognizable. His mother made the unconventional choice to have an open casket to show what these men did. It was a national sensation.

So many parts of this story made me SO mad! The 2 guys that committed this crime were ACQUITTED. I guess with an all white jury in the south, I could have seen it coming. And then 50 years later Carolyn Bryant said she lied...SHE LIED!

There is a little light at the end of this horrific story. It sparked the Civil Rights movement.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews395 followers
January 24, 2018
4.5 stars

A painful, but important look at US history while asking ourselves "how much has really changed?"

Before going into this book, I had familiarity with the basics of the Emmett Till case, his horrific murder, and the gross miscarriage of justice after his death. Tyson's work provides much more detail about Till's family, the murderers' families, the impact of Till's death on the civil rights movement, and the reactions of other countries to the Till case.

Listening to the book on audio, the book got a bit muddled in the middle as Tyson explained all the various civil rights leaders working throughout the country. I had a hard time keeping the names straight (this might have been easier had I read the text instead of listening to it). The final chapters -- where Tyson offers his analysis vs. a litany of names, dates, and places -- are exceptional.

Make no mistake -- this book will stir thoughts and emotions that will not settle easily. Fourteen year-old Emmett Till was brutally beaten and murdered because he had the "audacity" to whistle at a white woman. In 1955 Mississippi, acquittal for the defendants was a foregone conclusion (part of the defense was that Till "had it coming"). Once acquitted and out of danger of double jeapordy, the defendants -- Milam and Bryant -- spoke quite openly about the murder. Although one would wish that the sentiments in their chilling remarks be relegated to history, it is wise to listen and be aware that sadly, these views continue to exist today:

"Outside Bryant’s grocery, the youths dared Till to ask Carolyn Bryant for a date. He did so. Hearing the tale, Milam and Bryant kidnapped the boy from his great-uncle’s farmhouse intending meerly to beat him, but Till taunted them …and proclaimed his own equality…

‘We were never able to scare him,’ Milam [admitted]. ‘They had just filled him so full of that poison he was hopeless.’

The men took turns smashing Till across the head with their 45s. The boy never yelled, but continued to say things like ‘You bastards, I’m not afraid of you. I’m as good as you are. My grandmother was a white woman.’

Milam made their case, ‘Well, what else could we do? It was hopeless. I’m no bully. I never hurt a ni**er. I like ni**ers – in their place. I know how to work ‘em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, ni**ers are gonna stay in their place. Ni**ers ain’t gonna vote where I live -- if they did they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a ni**er even gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired of livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country and we’ve got some rights. G-damn you, I’m gonna make an example of you, so everybody knows where me and my folks stand.’”
Profile Image for Holly.
1,449 reviews1,086 followers
March 19, 2018
3.5 stars

The atrocities that occurred against Emmett Till and then against him again when our justice system failed him so spectacularly is enough to make a person sick with anger. This book lays out everything from what led Till to be in Mississippi in the first place all the way up to the events that followed the acquittal of his murderers. However between those events, this book does have a disappointing amount of, what can only be described as, filler. In chapter five for example there is a literal list of all the kinds of candy that could be found for sale in the store that Emmett Till later went into. This goes on for two pages, where the author is just listing out things that were sold in the store. These pages of filler all together needlessly dragged the book down. I will say I only knew the bare facts about Emmett Till before reading this book, and I did learn a lot from reading it, so the book did succeed on that account.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews133 followers
April 17, 2017
There are probably few people who have not heard of Emmett Till and his horrific murder in 1955. This book, The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson, in my view, does not add a great deal to the knowledge that has been available for all of these years; but he DOES an excellent job of taking what is known about the murder of this 14 year-old boy and placing it in a broader national, international, political and social context.

In August, 1955 14 year-old Emmett Till left his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley's home in Chicago and traveled to the town of Money in the Mississippi Delta to spend time with relatives. While there, Emmett and some of his cousins went to buy candy at the Bryant Grocery. What actually occurred between Emmett Till and Carolyn Bryant, the woman who was operating the cash register that day, is not known; however, Mrs. Bryant reported to her husband Roy Bryant and police that Emmett Till had been 'inappropriate' with her. A variety of stories have been told over the years... one story told by Mrs. Bryant was that Emmett had grabbed her and talked 'obscenely' to her, informing her that he had seduced other white women. The author Mr. Tyson suggests that Emmett perhaps had simply been unaware of the social norms which forbade physical contact between blacks and whites and had mistakenly touched her hand when given the change due him from the candy purchase.

Regardless of what transpired that August day in the Bryant Grocery, what was done to Emmett Till was horrendous and incomprehensible. Carolyn Bryant's husband, Roy and his half-brother, J. W. Milam dragged Emmett Till from his bed in the middle of the night, beat him until he was virtually unrecognizable, shot him in the head and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River with the fan from a cotton gin tied around his body. As shocking as this crime was, it actually was not unique in and of itself at the time. According to statistics from the Tuskegee Institute, between the years 1882- 1968, 3,446 African Americans were lynched. During this time period, there was at least one lynching in every state in the United States... 581 were reported in Mississippi alone. The murder of Emmett Till turned out to be unique because of the events that followed... events which truly sparked a movement.

As Mr. Tyson discussed, the Supreme Court's decision in the case Brown v Board of Education in 1954, found that state laws which allowed for separate public schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This decision was a tremendous victory and provided impetus for the Civil Rights Movement; but the leaders of the movement were finding it difficult to garner the needed attention from an American public with a short attention span. This decision by the Supreme Court was not popular in all places; in fact, it was responsible for a great deal of social anxiety and unrest... especially in the South. It was the actions of Emmett Till's mother, Mamie, that provided the spark which led to the Civil Rights Movement capturing not only the attention and imagination of the American public but that of the world. Mamie Till-Mobley, against the wishes of authorities and with the support of the NAACP, decided to display her son's battered body to the public in an open coffin. In Chicago, hundreds of people filed past the boy's coffin and got an up-close look at what had been done to him.

At the same time in Mississippi, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam's murder trial was being held. The two men were quickly acquitted and in an interview, the jury foreman stated that the jury had been told to "make it look good."Jurors also stated in later interviews that they never had doubts that the defendants were guilty but they had all agreed that if a black boy insulted a white woman, her kin could not be blamed for retaliation.

As is often the case in the United States, the government and the public in its shortsightedness, did not predict the world's outrage at the violent death of the young African American boy and the subsequent 'not guilty' verdict. As the photos of the open coffin of Emmett Till made their way around the world, pressure... political and economic pressure... began to mount. A French newspaper at the time called the verdict in the Till case "an insult to the conscience of the civilized world." The shared international consensus was that the verdict was one more example of America's hypocrisy on race. In short, America did not practice the democracy it preached. The pressure was on to force Congress to pass an anti-lynching bill.

The world's outrage and the mounting political and economic pressure combined with the efforts of African American newspapers and the NAACP, led to the increased public awareness that the Civil Rights Movement had been hoping and looking for. The Civil Rights Movement would gain steam and strength and also struggle through the next decade resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voter Rights Act of 1965. Sadly and frustratingly, progress never seem to follow a straight line. One additional aspect of this book which I felt was important to mention was that Mr. Tyson touched briefly on the Black Lives Matter movement which has sprung up in communities across the country. After numerous cases of unjustified force against young black men by police officers, people are once again mobilizing to protest. Mr. Tyson provides several limited explanations or contributing factors for what has been happening over the last decade (or more).. economic insecurity and anxiety due to the financial crisis, the election of the first African American president in the U. S., the militarization of community police forces and the mass incarceration of young black men. I agree that all of these factors have contributed at least in part and I'm sure people will continue to debate and protests will continue. But once again, Emmett Till's name is being invoked in remembrance to once again raise the awareness of a people sometimes slow to stand for justice. As William Faulkner stated in 1955 when asked to comment on the Emmett Till case.. "If we in America have reached the point in our desperate culture where we must murder children, we don't deserve to survive and probably won't."

* This book was marketed in part on the promise of relating what Mrs. Carolyn Bryant had to say to the author in an interview in 2008.. If you are planning to read this book solely to discover that Mrs. Bryant has somehow evolved considerably on this issue or has provided some new piece of information regarding what REALLY happened... don't bother. Her memory, you see, appears to be quite faulty... after all, who can remember something from over 50 years ago?

** I am including a link to a 'Jet' magazine article regarding Emmett Till. Please be advised there is a photo which is quite disturbing and may not be for everyone!

Profile Image for gnarlyhiker.
359 reviews13 followers
February 10, 2017
There is no interview or what would constitute as an interview with Carolyn, the instigator of Emmett Till’s fate. Her autobiography or papers are sealed till 2038.

In the end TBOET adds nothing new to this tragedy.


Update: 21 January '17

This book is for you if you are between the ages of 18-25. This book is for you if you don’t know any better. This book is for you if you have never watched the 1990 14-part documentary “Eyes on the Prize”. This book is for you if you have never read Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson’s “The Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America”. This book is for you if don’t know that Black History Month used to be a week. This book is for you if you have to use the Internet to find out about the Scottsboro Boys and the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. This book is for you if you have never heard of Fannie Lou Hamer and have never read “This Little Light of Mines: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer” by Kay Mills. This book is for you if you have never watched the documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” by Keith Beauchamp. This book is for you if while reading poems of Patricia Smith’s “Incendiary Art” and she says “Turn to page 14 if Emmett travels to Nebraska instead of Mississippi” or “Turn to page 19 if Hedy Lamarr was actually Emmett’s girlfriend” or “Turn to page 48 if Emmett Till’s body was never found”. This book is for you if you believe when asked what did happen between Emmett and the instigator and she says, “I want to tell you. Honestly, I just don’t remember. It was fifty years ago. You tell these stories for so long that they seem true, but that part is not true”. This book is for you that after reading said quote and you don’t say to yourself: What a crock of dung. Seriously, gag me with a spoon. This book is for you if you want to read about being served coffee and cake. This book is for you if your mamma never made you grits, sausage with gravy (and no, just add hot water, stir and serve don’t count. And shame on your mamma if she’d ever stoop so low).

This book is not for you if ANY of the above applies. This book is not for you if you can complete the sentence: ____________ is the most southern place on earth. This book is not for you if you have read or plan to read: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Dr. Carol Anderson. This book is not for you if you have read "The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson. This book is not for you if you plan to watch the soon to be released documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” by Raoul Peck. This book is not for you if you’re finally hoping to hear/read the truth, nothing but the truth about exactly what happened in that dingy excuse for a store that would get a 14 year old killed.

Good luck. The End
Profile Image for Jean.
1,728 reviews751 followers
July 15, 2017
In 1955 an all-white male jury found the two white defendants not guilty of killing a black boy even though they had confessed to the crime. This is one of the worst incidents of “Southern Justice” in our nation’s history. The victim was a fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago who was visiting a relative in Mississippi. The boy who had polio when younger was accused of provoking a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, with a wolf whistle and flirtation. Her husband, Roy Brant and her half -brother, J. W. Milan, then beat-up and lynched the boy.

Many books have been written about this case. What sets Tyson’s book apart is the broad view he used to examine the lynching. Tyson does an excellent job with the courtroom scenes. The book is well written and meticulously researched. Tyson examined the records including the trial transcripts and interviews of most of the people involved, including a rare interview with the late Carolyn Bryant. Apparently, Carolyn Bryant wrote her memoir. The manuscript and related papers have been sealed until 2038. The author delves into the social and economic forces that drove Roy Bryant and J. W. Milan to kill Till. Tyson then ties up the case to include the ongoing problems of inequality of justice for blacks today. Tyson is a historian at Duke University so the book is more academic than many books written on the subject.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is just over eight and a half hours long. Rhett S. Price does a good job narrating the book. Price is an actor and audiobook narrator.
Profile Image for Laura.
828 reviews253 followers
November 16, 2017
My first experience learning about Emmett Till was by reading the historical fiction book, Wolf Whistle, by Lewis Nordan. It's a wonderful read that exposed me to an event I never knew took place. Tyson's work is nonfiction and does an excellent job putting the facts into a very readable text. Nordan and Tyson's works are great companion pieces that I highly recommend.
Profile Image for I Be Reading .
69 reviews
February 7, 2017
Meh. This definitely is not the definitive book about Emmett Till and I'm not sure it added anything to the story about him that we didn't already know. It appears all the hype and hullabaloo around the author getting accessory to murder Carolyn Bryant to talk was just that: hype to promote a pretty basic book.
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
686 reviews
November 11, 2017
When asked to think of a picture of a truly heroic action, many people will think of the lone Chinese protester facing off a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square. After finishing Timothy B. Tyson’s magnificent new book, I now see a different picture.

As photographs go it isn’t much but the story behind it makes shivers run down my spine. The image is of Moses Wright, a lanky black sharecropper and great uncle of 14-year-old Emmett Till. In the photograph the 64-year old Wright, standing tall in a white shirt, black tie, and suspenders, pointing across a Mississippi courtroom at the two white men charged with Till’s kidnapping an murder. This may not sound like much, but many people sitting in that courtroom were convinced that they were witnessing an act of suicide. No black man who enjoyed living would ever testify against a white man. And yet he did it.

This is just one of many tremendous acts of courage described in this account of the lynching of Till and the trial that arguably served as a catalyst for the protests of the Civil Rights Era. I’ve often heard of the case but never knew before now how integral a part it played in the campaign to defeat Jim Crow. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I sincerely hope that everyone reads it. This was a very dark time in our history that we should never forget.

My thanks to the folks at the On the Southern Literary Trail group for choosing this as a group selection for November, 2017, and giving me the opportunity to read and discuss it with others. Anyone who is interested is welcome to join in.

Profile Image for Steven Z..
597 reviews121 followers
June 5, 2017
At a time when the “Black Lives Matter” movement continues to gain momentum it is interesting to contemplate what the turning point was for the Civil Rights Movement. In his new book THE BLOOD OF EMMETT TILL, Timothy B. Tyson argues that the lynching of Emmett Till on August 28, 1955, by two white men in rural Mississippi was the tipping point. It appears their actions were in part motivated by the 1954 Supreme Court’s Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, KA decision outlawing “separate but equal,” a landmark case that lit a fire under white supremacists in the south. Shortly thereafter, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Birmingham, AL and events began to snowball. Tyson reexamines the murder of Till and explores what really happened that night. The author includes new material gained from his 2007 interview of Carolyn Bryant who was supposedly the victim of some sort of offensive behavior that violated Mississippi’s unwritten code that existed between whites and blacks. It seems that Bryant’s memory of what transpired after fifty years has changed, which makes it even more disconcerting in exploring the plight of Emmett Till.

In her interview Bryant changed her story from the testimony given in the trial of her husband Roy Bryant, and brother-in-law, J.W. “Big” Milam who were accused of murdering Till. Her testimony “that Till grabbed her around the waist and uttered obscenities” was not true. Till did not grab her, but the all-white jury acquitted both men of the murder. Till a fourteen year old boy and his cousin, Wheeler Parker who lived in Chicago’s south side were visiting their uncle Reverend Moses Wright who was a sharecropper on the G.C. Plantation in the Mississippi Delta. Both boys were not ignorant of the mores of white-black relations in Mississippi, but what is key to the story is what actually happened when Till entered the Milam country store and interacted with Mrs. Bryant. That night Till was seized from Wright’s house by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam and was severely beaten, shot in the head, and dumped in a river twelve miles from the murder scene. Tyson provides detailed accounts of August 28, 1955, the return of Till’s body to Chicago, the arrest and trial of the two men, the effect on American society, the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, and the world wide reaction to the verdict which played into the hands of the Soviet Union in the heart of the Cold War.

For Tyson, the key to the reaction to Till’s murder was the behavior and strategy pursued by his mother, Mamie Bradley. Once she learned of her son’s kidnapping she decided that “she would not go quietly” and began calling Chicago newspapers as she realized there were no officials in Mississippi she could appeal to. Sheriff Clarence Strider of Tallahatchie County was put in charge of the investigation despite the fact the murder occurred outside his jurisdiction. For Strider and other county officials the goal was to bury Till as soon as possible and let the situation blow over. Bradley refused to cooperate and demanded that her son be returned to Chicago for burial. Once that occurred Bradley’s only weapon to make sure her son’s death had meaning was his body. During the viewing and funeral she made sure that the casket was open so the public could learn the truth of how her son was tortured and then murdered, and learn what Mississippi “justice” was all about. Because of the new medium of television and newspaper photographs of the mutilated body the entire country was now a witness to the results of the lynching.

Tyson does an excellent job bringing the reader inside the courtroom and explaining why the two murderers were acquitted. He digs deep into Mississippi’s historical intolerance of African-Americans and how they should behave and be employed. Tyson reviews the plight of Black America through World War II and touches on the hope that returning black veterans who fought for democracy would be treated differently after the war. This did not occur nationwide, particularly in Mississippi. However, as the Civil Rights Movement shifted its strategy toward enforcing its voting rights and employing the economic weapon, Mississippians grew scared and became even more violent towards African-Americans, and with the Brown decision men like Bryant and Miam were exorcised to the point of lynching Till.

Tyson presents a concise history of intimidation, violence, and murder that African-Americans confronted each day in Mississippi. As the NAACP grew and demands for voting rights and desegregation expanded the powers that be in Mississippi grew worried. They relied on people like Thomas Brady, a Mississippi Circuit Court Judge and occupant of a seat on the state’s Supreme Court to create the “Citizens Council Movement” to espouse the propaganda of race mixing and the threat to southern womanhood as the gospel of the white south. In fact, the defense in the Till trial leaned on the threat of southern womanhood in its argument that gained the acquittal. The fact that the trial itself took place only twenty days after the murder in of itself reflects the lack of proper investigation. Further, the threats and coercion to prevent witnesses from testifying is testimony to the lack of justice. In fact, a few who did testify for the prosecution, uprooted their lives in Mississippi and moved to Chicago for fear of retribution.

The person in this drama who should feel ashamed of themselves is Carolyn Bryant whose lies contributed to the acquittal of Till’s murderers. It is a shame that there is a statute of limitations for perjury because she was certainly guilty. Her show of “conscience,” for this reader is fifty years too late.

Reading this book can only make one angry about America’s past and one would hope that race would no longer be a factor in our society. But in fact it is. We witnessed race baiting throughout the last presidential campaign and as a society we have not come to terms with the idea of “equal justice under the law.” Tyson’s book should be read in the context of history, but also as a vehicle to contemporary understanding. As Tyson aptly points out, the death of Emmett Till “was caused by the nature and history of America itself and by a social system that has changed over the decades, but not as much as we pretend.” (208) One wonders if the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO will be as transformative an episode as the death of Emmett Till.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,898 reviews535 followers
November 10, 2017
This is what happens when you do a lot of research about what was sold in the country stores but you still don't manage to add anything new to the conversation about a famous lynching. Read it if you don't know anything of the history of Emmett Till. The story is a tragedy and the fact that the instigator got to be an old lady, still lying, is infuriating to say the least. However, I found this book to be a boring rehash.
Profile Image for DeeReads.
2,256 reviews
February 26, 2020
The rage I'm feeling after reading Timothy Tyson's "The Blood of Emmett Till" is still boiling raw yet the history of this hate-infested crime in so many ways continues on in 21st century America in other ways against POC due to power and privilege!

"My name is being called on the road to freedom. I can hear the blood of Emmett Till as it calls from the ground…. When shall we go? Not tomorrow! Not at high noon! Now!"
-- Reverend Samuel Wells

"They had to see what I had seen. The whole nation had to bear witness to this. I knew that if they walked by the casket, if people opened the pages of Jet magazine or the Chicago Defender, if other people..."- Mamie Bradley

“We are still killing black youth because we have not yet killed white supremacy.”
― Timothy B. Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till

"You tell these stories for so long that they seem true, but that part is not true.” - Carolyn Bryant

5 powerful stars


Yet just today, February 26, 2020, four House members voted No on Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act:
Amash (I-MI)
Gohmert (R-TX)
Massie (R-KY)
Yoho (R-FL)
BREAKING: The House just passed 410-4 the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act that would classify lynching as a federal hate crime.

The hate is real!
Profile Image for Gwen - Chew & Digest Books -.
573 reviews43 followers
February 16, 2018
Learning about Emmett Till is important, without question, but the epilogue of this is what knocked me to my knees.

a sample...

"America is still killing Emmett Till, and often for the same reasons that drove the violent segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s. Yes, some things have changed; the kind of violence that snatched Till’s life strikes only rarely. A white supremacist gunman slaughtering nine black churchgoers in a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2014, however, reminds us that the ideology of white supremacy remains with us in its most brutal and overt forms."

We are still killing Emmett Till, with our silence, our generalizing, our refusal to see the problem or by calling violent events a "one-off, the work of one crazy person".

We haven't changed as much as we like to think and we are still killing Emmett Till.

Update November 30th, 2017: This has turned out to be one of my most liked reviews on Goodreads and even though I read the book way back in January, some 400 plus books ago, this one still haunts me. The epilogue has helped me focus my lifelong search for understanding and a focus on Civil Rights then and now, especially considering the current political climate. Call me an idealist, but I've never understood the hatred of or the difference between races, religions, or even cultures 'other' than our own. We all have the same or similar dreams for our lives and children if we have them. We all cry the same tears, live through the same heartaches and disappointments, celebrate successes as they come, and even bleed the same damn color.

The 'wrongness' of all of this has been with me since childhood and it isn't like it was something we discussed at the dinner table or that my parents were strongly one way or another, racist or not, if anything, growing up in a predominately white area of Southern CA and then being at UCLA during the last days of the Civil Rights area, they were somewhat isolated from all of it. (Although my mom does like to mention that she had Kareem Abdul Jabar in one of her classes, all she says is that he was really tall. Her being 5'2' in shoes, this isn't exactly surprising. )

It was just a vital truth that came from inside me, but being an introvert with anxiety issues, I've never been able to figure out how to take part and be a soldier in the change. This book helped me realize that with every act, we are all part of the change or the continuation of this. If we allow a derogatory comment to slip by without calling someone on it, we are part of the problem. If we cross the street when we see someone different, either black, seemingly mentally ill, developmentally disabled, or wearing a burka. we are part of the problem. If we aren't willing to shake each and every hand that is put out to us, we are part of the problem. If we don't bother to learn about different cultures, either by immersion and face to face interactions or by reading, we are part of the problem.

As basically a hermit, I read and learn constantly and that brings me a greater understanding and respect. Although sometimes I get so fired up that I feel ready to take on the world about this issue, I know that with my mental health issues that isn't sustainable. I can be a small part, however, through my gaining of understanding and respect by my reading, by shaking every hand, by returning every smile, by speaking up or calling someone out when I see or hear an issue, and by using my words on the screen. Right now, I'm just not in a position to do more. I hope to be less of a hermit someday be able to volunteer more and be a part of larger changes.

It's the least I can do for Emmett Till and all of those that lost and continue to lose their lives in this battle along with those continuing to suffer from all of the crap thrown at them or walls built in their way in their everyday lives. We are all the same and until every single person realizes this, we will continue to be killing Emmett Till and that's not okay.
Profile Image for Roxie Voorhees.
Author 17 books107 followers
June 25, 2020
I will never get used to the sound of a white man saying the n-word.

This tragic story is only one of too many the Black community has dealt with over the last 400 years. As a profound ally to the #blacklivesmatter movement, it breaks my heart to relive such blatant disregard for another human's life.

I can only put myself in Emmett's Momma's shoes the entire time I read this.This is why I read fantasy and horror fiction. Now back to my regularly scheduled break of reality.
Profile Image for Ann.
Author 6 books224 followers
March 20, 2017
Despite a reference to Trayvon Martin, this book seems like it was written over a decade ago. It might have seemed radical and revelatory to some (maybe even me) if it had come out years ago. But I read this book immediately after reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. In The Blood of Emmett Till, Tyson quotes Ta-Nehisi Coates. But Tyson seems to be in a different century from Kendi and Coates.

Like many people, I had seen pre-publicity about this book. I was keen to hear what Till accuser Carolyn Bryant said about the case in recent years. This interest seems to annoy Tyson. He has sniffed and declared in several interviews that the book is not about Bryant. But the book begins by describing Carolyn’s family and circumstances in depth. Even though Tyson draws sympathetic portraits of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, and her uncle, Reverend Moses Wright, none of them come to life like Bryant. This may be because Tyson is a white southerner who previously wrote a book about a brutal race murder that took place in his hometown when he was a boy. Tyson knows Bryant from the inside out. The central African American people in this drama never fully come to life. Strangely and disturbingly, Emmett Till seems the most easily discarded.

Tyson spoke to eighty year old Carolyn Bryant over coffee and pound cake at her home. Tyson notes about his visit with Bryant, “Manners matter a great deal, and the personal questions that oral histories require are sometimes delicate.” No doubt. But Bryant handpicked Tyson to confide in and to give a copy of her unpublished autobiography because she had read his earlier book about his hometown. She knew he would be sympathetic to her plight. The gentility of their meeting and her wholly insufficient “confession” is something Bryant has no right to. It’s a farce—a cruel racist farce. The encounter is on Bryant’s own terms. She is once again controlling the narrative on the brief life and brutal murder of a young Black man.

What is this confession, exactly? That part of her testimony in the courtroom--that Till grabbed her around the waist and told her he had “done things” with white women before—was not true. “That part’s not true,” Bryant tells Tyson, still negotiating the terms and holding things back. When Tyson nudges her gently, she says: “Honestly, I don’t remember. It was fifty years ago. You tell these stories for so long that they seem true, but that part is not true.” That may seem to some an honest comment about the faultiness of memory; especially when one lies (a word Bryant apparently could not bring herself to use) with deadly, historical consequences. But it seems deceitful, like a lot of things about Bryant.

Bryant’s recollections about her childhood and her awareness about race are white fantasies. She is trying to trace her lack of culpability practically back to the cradle. There are cruel lies here. Bryant’s father, Tom Holloway, was a plantation manager and prison guard at the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary. The prisoners were all Black, and Tom was a first rider. This meant he carried a leather strap, three feet long and six inches wide, nicknamed “Black Annie.” The riders whipped prisoners, naked and spread eagle, sometimes to death. But not Carolyn’s daddy. Oh no, she tells Tyson, “My daddy refused to do it. And on whipping night he would come home, and he would go into the bedroom and close the door and go to bed.” Why does Tyson do further damage to these prisoners, i.e. slaves, by printing Bryant’s vicious fairy tale?

Bryant’s line about her encounter with Till, which has found itself into every review of this book and, indeed, is the title of the first chapter—“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” needs deconstructing. A) Bryant is still insisting that Till “did” something. B) No one today who is not a white nationalist refers to a fourteen year old Black male as a “boy.” I work in a public library in Florida. I call six year old African American males “young man” or “sir.” C) Bryant is still working under the assumption that any sane person would believe that Till deserved any kind of punishment, for anything. Is this the best she can offer?

Tyson believes Bryant is not responsible for Till’s murder. He believes that she didn’t tell her husband and his brother about the encounter with Till in their store. Why wouldn’t she? Her possible motive to incite sexual jealousy and become the center of attention, not to mention racial hatred, never crosses his mind. He skips too quickly over Bryant’s likely presence in the car that stole Till from Reverend Wright’s house to torture and kill him. Apparently, Wright could not definitively identify the voice in the dark car who answered “yes” when Carolyn’s husband and brother in law asked, “Is this the boy?” Who else would it be? Furthermore, Carolyn was hidden and moved from place to place after the murder and before the trial. There is no reason to believe she was intimidated. She isn’t claiming it, unless it is in the unpublished autobiography. It is overemphasized that the jury was asked to leave when Bryant gave her testimony that Till tried to rape her. But even Tyson must admit that the jury surely heard about her testimony. As did Till’s relatives sitting in the courtroom—the only people who were telling the truth--waiting for justice.

Tyson seems to be completely unaware of the criticisms of white feminists by WoC. He still believes that the white men did the really bad things, and the white women should be protected and forgiven. As a white woman, I don’t find this helpful at all. It’s poisonous, and excludes honest discussion. We will never move ahead if we keep walking in this circle.

The title of Bryant’s autobiography—More than a Wolf-whistle: the Story of Carolyn Bryant Donham—is despicable. How long did it take her to realize she could cleverly twist the alleged wolf-whistle that sealed Emmett’s doom into a catchy title? Emmett’s older cousin, Wheeler Parker, who entered the store a minute after Emmett’s alleged encounter with Bryant has maintained that Emmett did wolf-whistle when Bryant marched out of the store to get a pistol from her car. By the way, Wheeler Parker is still alive and he’d like to talk to Bryant. He was also shocked to hear that Bryant had slightly recanted her story. Apparently, Tyson didn’t think it was necessary to let the Till family know before he published the book. He did not interview any of them to write the book! The autobiography and Tyson’s full interview with Carolyn are sealed for many years, until after Bryant’s death. Wheeler Parker will probably never read them. Why? She might be attacked, after all. Once again, Carolyn is asking for white male protection against the African American community. She has thrown a crumb at the Till family, who have lived not just with the sorrow of Emmett’s death and the outrage of no justice, but the insinuation that he somehow had it coming, because he was an uppity Chicago Black man in Mississippi.

In the book and in recent interviews, Tyson has commented, admiringly, on how Emmett’s beloved mother, Mamie Till Bradley, knew the value of the press because she gave Emmett an open casket funeral and allowed photographers to print photos of his unspeakable condition. This was a central moment in the Civil Rights movement. The role of the press was crucial and Mamie was clear-eyed through her tears. But there is a little cynicism here. This is a grieving mother demanding that Emmett is not forgotten and trying to get justice for her son. To focus on her calculations doesn’t make her more impressive. I don’t need to be told that she was an intelligent, complex person. I want to see her as her friends and family saw her. I want to understand how she survived.

(Bryant tells Tyson that she remembered Mamie and felt deeply for her when her own son died. But Bryant told the same old terrible lies to the DOJ when they reopened the Till case in 2004--a year after Mrs. Till Bradley died. This is unforgivable.)

Tyson is rightfully in awe of Reverend Wright, who sat every day in the courtroom and testified truthfully, risking his life. But he never fully comes to life for me. Why didn’t Tyson do an exhaustive background of the Till family. We are told in an aside that Emmett’s father was a World War II veteran. Tyson writes well about local Civil Rights leaders who were jaw-droppingly brave and effective in their time. But those parts of the book seem to divert from the central story.

This is supposed to be Emmett Till’s story. Where is he? I couldn’t help but wince when Tyson described him as “lovable, playful, and somewhat mischievous but essentially well-behaved.” Tyson is a member of his local NAACP chapter. There is a little too much piousness in the picture of Emmett and his young friends taking a joy ride in Reverend Wright’s borrowed car. They drove farther than they were allowed. They stopped at the Bryants' store to play checkers on the porch. Emmett dared—egged on by Wheeler and others?—to enter the store and briefly chat up the former beauty queen Carolyn behind the counter. When the brassy brunette stormed out to get a pistol from her car, he let out a long wolf whistle.

There is a poem by Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove called, “"Nigger Song: An Odyssey." It includes the lines: "We six pile in, the engine churning ink:/ We ride into the night./ In the nigger night, thick with the smell of cabbages,/ Nothing can catch us./ Laughter spills like gin from glasses,/ And "yeah" we whisper, "yeah"/ We croon, "yeah.""

This is instructive. Emmett is one of the martyrs of the Civil Rights movement. But he
was a flesh and blood young Black man. Just like Trayvon Martin and others whose deaths spark rage and outrage and are a call to action. It doesn't matter if they flirt and wolf-whistle white women, smoke weed, pose on social media throwing up gang signs or commit petty crimes. They never deserve their hideous fates. We don't need Carolyn Bryant to tell us that. We cannot allow Bryant or ourselves to pretend to claim an innocence that never belonged to us.

*Till family reacts with pain to the book, and Tyson defends his lack of sensitivity to the Till family as a "scholarly" approach and explains how he suffered writing the book: http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2017/0...
Profile Image for Ashley.
119 reviews
January 11, 2018
"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time" - James Baldwin

This quote perfectly encapsulates my existence at the moment. When I think of all the grave injustices that have been done to black people it makes me physically ill. I had to read this book in chunks because it's too much (emotionally) to digest in a couple sittings. It made me angry, sad and tearful.

I've known about Emmett Till for many years but just recently have I been trying to delve deeper into the story and learn more about the details.

Emmett was only 14 years old when these 2 savages kidnapped him in the middle of the night, tortured him, mutilated his body and dumped him in the Tallahatchie River for allegedly whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, and "molesting" her as the defense attorneys noted in court. These savages felt confident in murdering Emmett with impunity. They even admitted to kidnapping Emmett but were still found not guilty by the jury. And as we now know, Carolyn lied. A 14 year old boy was murdered all based on a lie. Even if she wasn't lying what happened to Emmett shouldn't have happened.

Mamie Till-Mobley exhibited so much strength and resolve throughout this horrific ordeal. Her decision to have an open casket and turn it into a public issue really galvanized a national movement and showed the world what black people faced (still face) in America. I think this story resonates so much with me because I have a black son, my only child, and to think of something like that happening to him makes me sick. I can't imagine the pain and grief that Mamie endured.

I'm mad and I have a headache so I'm going to end this here.
Profile Image for Natasha.
419 reviews
February 14, 2017
Rough, raw and real. It was a hard listen but necessary. There was more historical facts and events inlcuded than just the story of Emmett Till, which I appreciated. It's hard to imagine that these things were occurring in the 50s, I mean the 50s weren't that long ago! I wasn't alive but my mother was and she was almost the same age as Emmett Till. I can't imagine growing up in such a racially tense, segregated and unequal time. We still deal with racism but of course it's more concealed and we have laws now that were put in place to help...they don't always but back then there was barely any protection for blacks. It's not like I didn't know about these events before but I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it hasn't been that long since lynching was a common occurrence, since the right to vote for "colored" was allowed and without threats or intimidation, since blacks couldn't use the same bathroom, attend the same schools or eat in certain places, had to address whites as sir and ma'am while they were addressed as boy, gal, nigger.... I could go on but I'm not. It was a good listen overall, I will probably listen again and have my daughter listen along as well... it's that important.
Profile Image for Natalie Richards.
411 reviews179 followers
March 21, 2020
I hadn't heard of this book, or Emmett Till until recently. Lynched and murdered by white men in August 1955 in Mississippi, aged just 14. His brave mother made sure he would be known and remembered and not be just another black person lynched and forgotten. Weeks later, thinking of Emmett, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and a movement was born. A very important book.
Profile Image for Kusaimamekirai.
667 reviews220 followers
July 14, 2017
I’m going to struggle with this review a bit because 85% percent of the book is extremely well written and a fascinating narrative about one of the more heinous incidents in American history.
In 1955, 14 year old Emmett Till left his mother in Chicago for the summer to spend time with his uncle on the Mississippi Delta. One day Emmett wandered into a store where a young Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, was behind the counter. What happened after that is unclear and largely depends on whose story you choose to listen to, but it set in motion a chain reaction where Emmett would be brutally tortured and killed by two local white men, one of whom was Bryant’s husband.
The murder shocked the nation and did so again when the two men were acquitted by an all white jury, laying what many believe were the foundations of the modern civil rights movement.
This book is about that murder and the people involved. More so however, it is about America, race, and place in the 1950’s. Tyson does a marvellous job establishing the background of what that world looked like. It was a world with small town sheriffs who could have lunch with men accused of murder during their trial. It was a world where that same sheriff could every morning walk by a pool of black reporters visiting to report on the trial and say “Good morning N-ers” to them and nobody bats an eye. I had some familiarity with this case and the times it occurred in but Tyson really brings that moment to life.

Now to that 15%
The book opens with the author sitting down to tea and cake with Bryant, now in her 80’s and wanting to talk about what happened that day. Or does she? This is where things get very murky and uncomfortable for me. Let’s start with a quote from the author early in the book about what Bryant remembers from that day:

“Fifty years later Carolyn summoned her courage to tell me that her testimony had not been true, even though she didn’t remember what was true, but that nothing Emmett Till did could ever justify what had happened to him.”

I have a real problem with calling her courageous here. Courageous would have been not setting her husband on a 14 year old boy in the first place. Courageous would have been not lying 50 years earlier and bringing her husband to justice for cold blooded murder. It doesn’t invalidate a lot of good in this book, but I find it difficult to reconcile the horrific details he chronicles of this murder with sympathy for the woman who could’ve prevented it all. Were I writing a book about said murder and the person chiefly responsible admits they lied, surely there should be some condemnation right? Instead we get some fuzzy, mealy mouthed excuse that perhaps she isn’t clear on what happened at this point. But she is clear that she lied about something. I found this sentence to be frustrating in the extreme.

“Exactly what happened between Carolyn Bryant and Emmett Till at the store will never be revealed to a certainty, probably not even to her.”

No. No. No. What the hell does this sentence even mean? It happened to her. How can the author claim the truth won’t be known to her. She’s on record as having lied. She said it earlier in your conversation. I’m really disturbed by his lack of willingness to push her on this. What in the end is the purpose of speaking to her at all if she is either
A) continuing to obfuscate her role in the murder or B) mentally incapacitated to the point that she is unreliable?
(It should be mentioned that at the time of this interview, Bryant was in the process of publishing her own book about the murder so financial gain may also have been a motivation.)

“The preponderance of evidence does tell us that almost from the moment of the incident between her and Emmett at the store on August 24, she was frightened of its escalating consequences and probably sought to avoid them.”

What is the preponderance of the evidence? Why are we projecting fear and timidity on a woman whose first reaction when she claims Emmett Till “smart talked” her was to go to her husband's car and pull out a revolver from under the seat. Hardly the actions of a shrinking violet. She also lied about what happened under oath, and continued to do so long after her husband and anyone else she may have been intimidated by had died.

“Whether or not she actually identified the boy (to her husband) is merely a matter of speculation; I have found no way to prove or disprove it.”

I’m sorry, but this is a copout that he needs to be called on. We are supposed to believe that her husband went ahead and tortured and murdered a boy who he knew was innocent without ever searching for the real boy responsible? From the portrait the author himself presents of this man, that seems unlikely in the extreme. It is as likely as the story the sheriff in the case tried to present to the jury that the boy in the river wasn’t Emmett Till but maybe someone who was hit by a car and dumped in the river. Why does the author give credence to the former theory but rightly ridicules the latter?

This in many ways is a compelling and important book. It does many laudable things and the author makes some excellent points about collective responsibility in that often the people who stand by and say nothing are often as culpable if not more so for evil. However, when the author tries to paint Carolyn Bryant as a victim, or simply an old lady with failing memory who was young and got caught up in something beyond her control, it does a grave disservice to Emmett Till. It ignores her fingering Till to her husband knowing full well what the consequences would be. It ignores her lying under oath. It ignores her continuing to lie for 50 years. Ignoring unpleasant truths may be a way to sleep better at night, but it only pulls us further and further from true justice.
Profile Image for Queen .
5 reviews
February 1, 2017
This book should not be purchased until the proceeds are to be forwarded to the family of Emmett Till or to a charity in his name. The only people who should be profiting off of this story is Emmitt Till. Not the woman who caused his death or the author and publishing company exploiting it. This is information that should be freely publicized to exonerate Emmitt Till and inform the public. That awful woman that caused a childs torture and death should be put on trial for committing purgury and being an accessory to cold blooded murder. She should not be protected and hidden to live out the rest of her years in peace the way the Till family was unable to. The fact that this woman was able to live her life comfortably into her old age and is now being glorified in a book for admitting to causing a childs death that there will be no justice for DISGUSTS me. I dont care what the content of this book is. Until the money is going to the Till family, a charity or this information is publicized for no profit, you will not get a dime from me. I hope others follow suit.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,348 reviews411 followers
April 2, 2017
A meticulously-researched book about the kidnapping and lynching of 14-year old, Chicagoan Emmett Till, while visiting his family in Mississippi in 1955. Sadly, the book was focused more on the consequences than the events, since the only living person who knows what actually happened (Carolyn Brant) won't say or doesn't remember. Only a few characters were developed, making the book largely uninteresting: mother, uncle, and the local Sheriff. I fear that the "us versus them" racist mentality of white Mississippi in this timeframe is on the rise again today in many places domestically.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,299 reviews393 followers
November 2, 2018
The story of Emmett Till should be required in every US history course and every social studies course. As the epilogue pointed out, white supremacy still has a stranglehold on our country, as evidenced by Ferguson, Charleston, Charlottesville, and so many more sprees where whites continue to believe, and aggressively assert said belief, that they are better than anyone else.
Profile Image for Mina.
239 reviews160 followers
December 23, 2020
“If you’re born in America with a black skin, you’re born in prison, and the masses of black people in America today are beginning to regard our plight or predicament in this society as one of a prison inmate.”
— Malcolm X
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