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The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

The Blood of Emmett Till (2017)

by Timothy B. Tyson

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The murder of Emmett Till is well-known to many who are aware of the state of affairs in the country during the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's. The brutal torture and murder of a fourteen-year old sparked a national and international reaction that fueled the rise of opposition to the systemic discrimination and oppression of African-Americans for so many decades, centuries really.

The story is well-known. Till was visiting his cousins from Chicago in the heart of the Mississippi delta. He allegedly insulted and physically assaulted Carolyn Bryant who was behind the counter at her husband's store. For this he was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by Bryant's brother-in-law and husband. His body was recovered from the Tallachatchie River several days later. His mother in her grief and anger made the brave decision to display his gruesome body in an open casket. A photo was published across the nation and world and brought about an enormous reaction to this horrendous act.

Tyson's research shed new light on this story. He tracked down Carolyn Bryant, now almost eighty and living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bryant revealed that her testimony that Till had physically assaulted her was false.

The pervasive discrimination in the South during this era was widely known. Even in the 1950's lynchings still occurred. The oppression of African-Americans was completely interwoven in Southern society at all levels of class in all components of social and civic institutions. African-Americans dared to attempt to vote only at peril for their lives. They could not serve on juries or give testimony in court against white people. There was a burgeoning civil rights movement whose leaders carried out their agenda at literal risk to their lives; a number were indeed assassinated. This book is much more than a true crime story; it gives a vivid picture of the relations between the white supremacist hierarchy and African-Americans in the South. Tyson does not let the North off the hook; he describes the pervasive, if somewhat more subtle, discrimination in Chicago where Till's family had migrated.

The almost instant acquittal of the defendants by an all-white, all-male jury was shocking but not unexpected. Tyson describes a bizarre tactic of the defense to convey to the jury that Till, by his actions toward a white woman, deserved his fate. He reminds us of the pathological obsession of white Southerners over the possibility of sexual relations between blacks and whites.

What is perhaps stunning to contemplate is that this systemic discrimination and injustice occurred within the lifetimes of many people living today. I was raised in the deep South during this era and remember vividly the overt signs and symbols of discrimination and subjugation of African-Americans. Even ten years after the 1955 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision I did not see a single black face in any school I attended. Segregation in public transit was as complete as it was in Rosa Park's time. "Whites Only" signs were everywhere. I like to remember that due to the influence of my northern-born parents I was aware of and repulsed by this gross inequity; I hope my memory is accurate. I do know that racism and discrimination, while not as blatant as in Till's time, is still present in our society, expressed in "dog whistle" ways by many in private and public life, even at the highest levels. ( )
  stevesmits | Aug 12, 2018 |
While I enjoyed the book and some of the new information that I learned, it was not a paper turner, it took me far far longer to finish this book than was necessary as it is not a long book.

In addition to discussing what happened to poor 14 year old Emmett Till in MS in 1955, most of the book is about how it came to be, the tradition of white supremacy, prior and later lynchings and murders and the generally deplorable way black folks were treated, so it is social history as well as a crime book.

I have the author's other book which will be more personal as it is a horrible story of a murder that happened when he was a child. ( )
  REINADECOPIAYPEGA | Jan 11, 2018 |
When asked to think of a picture of a truly heroic action, many people will think of the lone Chinese protester facing off a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square. After finishing Timothy B. Tyson’s magnificent new book, I now see a different picture.

As photographs go it isn’t much but the story behind it makes shivers run down my spine. The image is of Moses Wright, a lanky black sharecropper and great uncle of 14-year-old Emmett Till. In the photograph the 64-year old Wright, standing tall in a white shirt, black tie, and suspenders, pointing across a Mississippi courtroom at the two white men charged with Till’s kidnapping an murder. This may not sound like much, but many people sitting in that courtroom were convinced that they were witnessing an act of suicide. No black man who enjoyed living would ever testify against a white man. And yet he did it.

This is just one of many tremendous acts of courage described in this account of the lynching of Till and the trial that arguably served as a catalyst for the protests of the Civil Rights Era. I’ve often heard of the case but never knew before now how integral a part it played in the campaign to defeat Jim Crow. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I sincerely hope that everyone reads it. This was a very dark time in our history that we should never forget. ( )
1 vote Unkletom | Nov 11, 2017 |
This is what happens when you do a lot of research about what was sold in the country stores but you still don't manage to add anything new to the conversation about a famous lynching. Read it if you don't know anything of the history of Emmett Till. The story is a tragedy and the fact that the instigator got to be an old lady, still lying, is infuriating to say the least. However, I found this book to be a boring rehash. ( )
  fhudnell | Nov 10, 2017 |
This book was an interesting narrative take on the murder and subsequent trial, as well as the political organizing around the death of Emmett Till. I felt in some ways jerked around by this book, as a white reader--Tyson ends the book with a vivid call to action, but really doesn't posit the reader alongside Carolyn Bryant, asking the reader to challenge their own inner white supremacy (assuming a white reader, which, given the call to action, is who I think Tyson is aiming for.) There are some interesting things going on with rhetoric around how white supremacy functioned at the time of Till's death, especially given the messiness of the defense's claims during the trial, and it's probably a really good read for undergraduates or other non-historian folks looking to get a touch at how white supremacy has changed over time but also remained entrenched. ( )
1 vote aijmiller | Nov 2, 2017 |
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My name is being called on the road to freedom. I can hear the blood of Emmett Till as it calls from the ground...When shall we go? Not tomorrow! Not at high noon! Now!
Reverend Samuel Wells, Albany Georgia, 1962
for my brother Vern
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The older woman sipped her coffee.
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"In 1955, white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of white terrorism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared public school segregation unconstitutional ... But what actually happened to Emmett Till--not the icon of injustice but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, [this book] draws on a wealth of new evidence, including the only interview ever given by Carolyn Bryant, the white woman in whose name Till was killed"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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