How Emmett Till’s mother defied threats to her life and fought for justice
Twenty-four days after her son’s swollen body was found in the Tallahatchie River, tied to a cotton-gin fan and bound in barbed wire, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley made up her mind to travel deep into the racist South to testify at the trial of the two White men accused of murdering 14-year-old Emmett Till.
She had to be smuggled into Mississippi because of threats against her life. But Till-Mobley was determined to identify the body in court and let the world know what Mississippi had done to her only child. She hoped that even in Mississippi, 12 White people might consider the testimony of a grieving Black mother.
“They were going to turn the murder of my son into a case of self-defense, the self-defense of the Mississippi way of life,” Till-Mobley wrote in her 2003 memoir, “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America.”
In stifling heat in September 1955, Till-Mobley walked into the crowded courtroom in Sumner, Miss., passing Roy Bryant, 24, and J.W. Milam, 36, the men on trial for murder, and Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, whose accusations of assault had led to the brutal killing of Till-Mobley’s son.
More than 60 years after Till-Mobley’s riveting testimony during that trial, the film “Till” opened in the D.C. area this week, with a nationwide release later this month. Directed by Chinonye Chukwu and featuring Danielle Deadwyler as Till-Mobley, Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till and Whoopi Goldberg as Till’s grandmother, the film tells the story of Till-Mobley’s fight for justice and the sensational murder trial.
“The crux of this story is not about the traumatic, physical violence inflicted upon Emmett — which is why I refused to depict such brutality in the film — but it is about Mamie’s remarkable journey in the aftermath,” Chukwu said. “She is grounded by the love for her child, for, at its core, ‘Till’ is a love story.”