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The Blood of Emmett Till

Cover of The Blood of Emmett Till

The Blood of Emmett Till

In 2014, protesters ringed the White House, chanting, "How many black kids will you kill? Michael Brown, Emmett Till!" Why did demonstrators invoke the name of a black boy murdered six decades before?
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.

The national coalition organized to protest the Till lynching became the foundation of the modern civil rights movement. 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, the Emmett Till generation, forever marked by the vicious killing of a boy their own age, launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle into a mass movement. "I can hear the blood of Emmett Till as it calls from the ground," shouted a black preacher in Albany, Georgia.

But what actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, Timothy Tyson's The Blood of Emmett Till 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. Tyson's gripping narrative upends what we thought we knew about the most notorious racial crime in American history.
In 2014, protesters ringed the White House, chanting, "How many black kids will you kill? Michael Brown, Emmett Till!" Why did demonstrators invoke the name of a black boy murdered six decades before?
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.

The national coalition organized to protest the Till lynching became the foundation of the modern civil rights movement. 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, the Emmett Till generation, forever marked by the vicious killing of a boy their own age, launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle into a mass movement. "I can hear the blood of Emmett Till as it calls from the ground," shouted a black preacher in Albany, Georgia.

But what actually happened to Emmett Till—not the icon of injustice but the flesh-and-blood boy? Part detective story, part political history, Timothy Tyson's The Blood of Emmett Till 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. Tyson's gripping narrative upends what we thought we knew about the most notorious racial crime in American history.
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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; Blood Done Sign My Name, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, winner of the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, among others; 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. He serves on the executive board of the North Carolina NAACP.
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  • 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.

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