He’s My Death, Too: Emmett Till and America

Shehryar Fazli in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

BloodofemmetttillTimothy B. Tyson has written a concise and urgent book about Emmett Till’s 1955 murder in a small Mississippi town, a crime that ignited civil rights defenders into a long, hard struggle against the Jim Crow regime in the South, and inspired an outraged Rosa Parks to defy segregation laws on a Montgomery city bus. It’s a macabre story of inhumanity and injustice, but also of resistance and unity across a divided nation.

The facts may be known, but bear repeating. Fourteen-year-old Emmett, during a visit from Chicago to his family’s hometown of Money, Mississippi, allegedly whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in a grocery store. After Bryant claimed, untruthfully, that the black boy had also grabbed her, her husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam abducted Emmett from his grand uncle’s house, beat, mutilated and shot him, then dumped his body into the Tallahatchie River, from where it was recovered three days later. Just another lynching in the Jim Crow South … until it wasn’t. If it weren’t for the specific time and place, it’s unlikely to have become arguably the United States’s most consequential hate crime, the first act in a drama of reckoning that tested a nation’s moral fiber.

Expertly, Tyson demarcates and mines the territory of Till’s murder, including why the killers assumed it would go ignored; of the trial, which indeed concluded with a not-guilty verdict; and of the countrywide reaction to both. Yet his analysis of the big national moment does not upstage his attention to the Till family’s unimaginable personal loss.

More here.