The most poignant part of the Emmett Till story, for me, is his mother's decision to have an open casket at his funeral, despite the fact that his body was horribly disfigured. She wanted the entire world to see what had happened to her son, because she thought it might do some good. She also allowed the media to take photos, and Jet magazine published them, which added a national audience to the 50,000 people who filed by his casket. Till's mother's courage is astonishing to me.
Emmet Till's death sent shock waves through the entire country. The Civil Rights Movement responded. Even people who thought segregation and racism was ok were shocked at the death of an innocent boy, murdered so young, and for so little reason.
He was from Chicago but his family, like so many others, had its roots in the South. The most notable thing about his childhood was that he threatened to kill his stepfather (while holding a knife) when the man was threatening his mother. He was 11 at the time. He must have been pretty brave.
He was killed when he was 14. He was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he did something that offended a white woman. Her husband and his friends killed Till.