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The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till on August 28, 1955 galvanized the emerging civil rights movement.
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Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi on August 24, 1955 when he reportedly flirted with a white cashier at a grocery store. Four days later, two white men kidnapped Till, beat him, and shot him in the head. The men were tried for murder, but an all-white, male jury acquitted them. Till's murder and open casket funeral galvanized the emerging civil rights movement.
Emmett Louis Till was born on July 25, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois, the only child of Louis and Mamie Till. Till never knew his father, a private in the United States Army during World War II. Mamie and Louis Till separated in 1942, and three years later, in 1945, the family received word from the army that the soldier had been executed for "willful misconduct" while serving in Italy.
Emmett Till's mother was by all accounts an extraordinary woman. Defying the social constraints and discrimination she faced as an African-American woman growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, Mamie Till excelled both academically and professionally. She was only the fourth black student to graduate from suburban Chicago's predominantly white Argo Community High School and the first black student to make the school's "A" Honor Roll. While raising Emmett Till as a single mother, she worked long hours for the Air Force as a clerk in charge of secret and confidential files.
Emmett Till, who went by the nickname Bobo, grew up in a thriving, middle-class black neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. The neighborhood was a haven for black-owned businesses, and the streets he roamed as a child were lined with black-owned insurance companies, pharmacies and beauty salons as well as nightclubs that drew the likes of Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan. Those who knew Till best described him as a responsible, funny, and infectiously high-spirited child. He was stricken with polio at the age of five but managed to make a full recovery, save a slight stutter that remained with him for the rest of his life.
With his mother often working more than 12-hour days, Till took on his full share of domestic responsibilities from a very young age. His mother recalls, "Emmett had all the house responsibility. I mean everything was really on his shoulders, and Emmett took it upon himself. He told me if I would work, and make the money, he would take care of everything else. He cleaned, and he cooked quite a bit. And he even took over the laundry."
Till attended the all-black McCosh Grammar School. His classmate and childhood pal, Richard Heard, later recalled, "Emmett was a funny guy all the time. He had a suitcase of jokes that he liked to tell. He loved to make people laugh. He was a chubby kid; most of the guys were skinny, but he didn't let that stand in his way. He made a lot of friends at McCosh."
In August 1955, Till's great uncle Moses Wright came up from Mississippi to visit the family in Chicago. At the end of his stay, Wright was planning to take Till's cousin, Wheeler Parker, back to Mississippi with him to visit relatives down South, and when Till learned of these plans he begged his mother to let him go along.
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