From Too Proud to Bend: Journey of a Civil Rights Foot Soldier
Second in a series of ten excerpts from Nell Braxton Gibson’s memoir
At the time of this excerpt the author is thirteen years old
Two of the men, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, got out of the car, went to the door of the cabin, and ordered Wright to “get that boy who done the talkin’.” Mose pleaded with them to leave young Till alone, telling them the boy was from up North and didn’t know the ways of the South, but the men dragged Till outside, shoved him into the backseat of their car, and drove off. Joining a mob of like-minded vigilantes, Bryant and Milam proceeded to the Tallahatchie River where they forced Emmett Till out of the vehicle. They made him carry a seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan to the riverbank and then strip naked. They tortured him, shot him in the head, crushed his skull, gouged out an eye, and tied his body to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire before dumping it in the river.
Days later when investigators pulled his corpse up, it was so badly mutilated that his uncle could only identify him by the initialed ring his nephew wore. The boy’s casket was sent by train to his mother in Chicago, who collapsed on the station platform when she saw the remains of her only child. She decided to leave the casket open so the rest of the world could see what had been done to him.
On the day of his wake, thousands of people lined the Chicago streets to pay their respects. Jet magazine, a national Negro weekly, ran a photograph of his mutilated body on their pages, causing the outrage of the throngs of people who saw it. Most sent record-level contributions to the NAACP’s “fight fund.” Reported nationwide, the Emmett Till murder alerted the world to the horrors of life in Mississippi.