Emmett Till Questions and Answers
by Wanda Coleman

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What is the theme to Emmett Till's story?

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Emmett Till was a young 14-year-old black teenager from Chicago, IL who was killed in August of 1955 for reportedly "whistling" or flirting with a white woman at a local grocery store while visiting his great uncle in Money, Mississippi.  Till's body was found several days later in the Tallahatchie River with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire.  The murderers beat him before they shot him in the head. Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam were acquitted for the crime, but in an interview with a Look magazine, they admitted that they were the killers.  They were were found not guilty because of an unfair Southern legal system and because they were white.

Emmett Till's murder became a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement that galvanized the young and old to fight for equal rights. Emmett Till's mother, Mamie Till, insisted on an open casket at his funeral to show the hatred and brutality of the crime.  The national media contributed to this spark in the Civil Rights Movement by reporting on it and covering it on the nightly news.  In general, the American public was horrified at the incident.  

There are so many themes that are ingrained in Emmett Till's story.  Here's a list of the ones I see present:

  • racism/ white privilege/ power
  • discrimination
  • injustice
  • loss of innocence
  • prejudice
  • violence and hatred
  • stereotyping of black men wanting white women
  • racial strife
  • fighting for a cause and obtaining goals
  • human rights
  • failure of the judicial system
  • fear 
  • overcoming obstacles and hardships
  • Northern values vs. Southern values or ways of life

I hope this helps!!

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