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The Blood of Emmett Till
Cover of The Blood of Emmett Till
The Blood of Emmett Till
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction

This extraordinary New York Times bestseller reexamines a pivotal event of the civil rights movement—the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till—"and demands that we do the one vital thing we aren't often enough asked to do with history: learn from it" (The Atlantic).
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. Only weeks later, Rosa Parks thought about young Emmett as she refused to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, Black students who called themselves "the Emmett Till generation" launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle for civil rights into a mass movement. Till's lynching became the most notorious hate crime in American history.

But what actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice, but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, The Blood of Emmett Till "unfolds like a movie" (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), drawing on a wealth of new evidence, including a shocking admission of Till's innocence from the woman in whose name he was killed. "Jolting and powerful" (The Washington Post), the book "provides fresh insight into the way race has informed and deformed our democratic institutions" (Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Carry Me Home) and "calls us to the cause of justice today" (Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina NAACP).
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction

This extraordinary New York Times bestseller reexamines a pivotal event of the civil rights movement—the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till—"and demands that we do the one vital thing we aren't often enough asked to do with history: learn from it" (The Atlantic).
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. Only weeks later, Rosa Parks thought about young Emmett as she refused to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, Black students who called themselves "the Emmett Till generation" launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle for civil rights into a mass movement. Till's lynching became the most notorious hate crime in American history.

But what actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice, but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, The Blood of Emmett Till "unfolds like a movie" (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), drawing on a wealth of new evidence, including a shocking admission of Till's innocence from the woman in whose name he was killed. "Jolting and powerful" (The Washington Post), the book "provides fresh insight into the way race has informed and deformed our democratic institutions" (Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Carry Me Home) and "calls us to the cause of justice today" (Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina NAACP).
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About the Author-
  • Timothy B. Tyson is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School, and adjunct professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina. He is the author of The Blood of Emmett Till, a New York Times bestseller; Blood Done Sign My Name, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, as well as the basis for a feature film; and Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power, winner of the James Rawley Prize for best book on race and the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in US History from the Organization of American Historians, and the basis for the prize-winning documentary Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power. He serves on the executive board of the North Carolina NAACP and the UNC Center for Civil Rights.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 24, 2016
    With rare immediacy, Tyson (Blood Done Sign My Name) revisits the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi and the acquittal of those responsible in a gripping account of the cultural milieu of a racist environment. The work is informed by the retrospective of Carolyn Bryant (the woman whose short interaction with Till set the ensuing developments in motion), supported by the recollections of many who witnessed, participated in, testified to, and reported about the crime at the time, and strengthened by Tyson’s diligent research through contemporaneous accounts and archival materials as well as recent scholarship. Two families—the victim’s and the killers’—and their extended kinships occupy the center of the narrative, as Tyson describes the enmeshment of their lives with the legal apparatus that included several sheriffs, the prosecution and defense teams, the judge, and the jury (“all men, all white”). He also removes a multitude of other involved people from obscurity and gives them dimension. Tyson’s remarkable achievement is that each thread is explored in detail, backstories as well as main events, while he maintains a page-turning readability for what might seem a familiar tale. Cinematically engaging, harrowing, and poignant, Tyson’s monumental work illuminates Emmett Till’s murder and serves as a powerful reminder that certain stories in history merit frequent retelling.

  • Kirkus

    November 1, 2016
    A scholar of Southern history and culture expands on the saga of a racially motivated 1955 murder that resonated around the globe and helped spawn the political activism of courageous blacks in Mississippi and other former slave states.Emmett Till was the murder victim, a 14-year-old black male from Chicago visiting relatives in rural Mississippi. The targeting of Till by white racists began with supposedly inappropriate remarks he made to a 21-year-old white female shopkeeper. Decades later, Tyson (Blood Done Sign My Name, 2004), a senior research scholar at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, located and interviewed that woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham. From that interview, bolstered by prodigious research, the author determined that Bryant (her maiden name) was an unreliable witness, almost certainly exaggerating Till's alleged disrespectful conduct in the store. She now regrets that her testimony led to his murder by at least two relatives, with maybe others directly involved: "Nothing that boy did could justify what happened to him." For those who have read previous books about the Till murder--and there are plenty--not much else in Tyson's book is likely to constitute fresh news. Nonetheless, the well-presented details on the buildup to the murder, the incident in the store, the brutality of the killers, the mostly pro forma law enforcement investigation, the trial of the two defendants, and their unsurprising acquittals add atmosphere. In addition, Tyson is masterful at explaining how the Till murder became a major cause of the civil rights movement. Especially resonant today is the author's focus on obtaining voting rights for blacks in Southern states that denied those rights before the Till murder. "America is still killing Emmett Till," he writes, "and often for the same reasons that drove the violent segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s." Tyson skillfully demonstrates how, in our allegedly post-racial country, a "national racial caste system" remains in place.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2016
    Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Tyson authored Blood Done Sign My Name, winner of the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Here, fresh accounts and recently recovered court transcripts help clarify the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till and its consequences.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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