Emmett Till’s Death Could Easily Have Been Forgotten. Here’s How It Became a Civil Rights Turning Point Instead

By ELLIOTT J. GORN | TIME

There are many startling things about the Emmett Till case. But, 63 years after his death, perhaps the most startling of all is the fact that Americans know his name, even recognize his face.

Back in the summer of 1955, when J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant savagely beat the 14-year-old Chicago kid, shot him in the head, weighted his body down and dumped it in the Tallahatchie River, they thought that was the end of it.

Till had whistled at Bryant’s wife Carolyn, or spoken suggestively to her, or laid hands on her — the story kept changing. It was the classic Southern tale of a black male accused of violating the region’s taboo against interracial intimacy. Literally thousands of African American men were lynched under such accusations.

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