Emmett Till’s casket donated to Smithsonian

Emmett Till and his mother, Friday was the 54th anniversary of Emmett Till’s lynching. To mark the occasion, his family announced the donation of his original casket to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Chicago native Emmett Till was just 14 years old when he was beaten, tortured and shot in the head for allegedly whistling/flirting/touching the hand or waist of a white woman (the witnesses’ stories are inconsistent on what actually happened) while visiting his uncle in Money, Mississippi. The case drew national attention and is considered a seminal event of the Civil Rights era.

The picture seen 'round the world of Emmett Till's open casket His casket played a pivotal role in this history, as his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted against all kinds of pressure from Mississippi authorities that it be open for viewing and photographing. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby,” she has famously said, and she got her way.

A picture of the mutilated boy published in Jet magazine went around the world, publicizing the horrors of the Jim Crow South and galvanizing the fledgling Civil Rights Movement.

His murderers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam (the husband of the white woman in question and his half-brother), were acquitted in minutes by a jury of all white men, despite Till’s uncle’s testimony that they had dragged him out of the house and other witnesses who saw them with Till and heard Emmett’s cries shortly thereafter. The killers even admitted it in Look Magazine once the trial was over and died entirely unrepentant.

He was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, and then exhumed in 2005 when the case was reopened in hopes of confirming other participants in the crime. As is customary with exhumations, Emmett’s body was reburied in a new casket. The original one was supposed to be preserved for a memorial museum, but instead it was tossed into a shed by the incredibly creepy cemetery manager who seems to also have embezzled the memorial donations.

That manager and several gravediggers made the news recently for having dug up hundreds of bodies, dumped them and resold the plots. Emmett’s body seems to have been spared, but his casket was not. It was found rusting in a garage full of broken headstones, lawn care equipment and assorted trash. There was apparently a family of possums living in the casket.

Till's casket in the garage Till's casket in the garage, detail

Now the casket, its glass viewing window still intact, is safe in the hands of the Rayner and Sons mortuary, the same funeral home which first prepared Emmett’s body for burial. They will send it to the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center for restoration and conservation until it can be displayed in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens in 2015.


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Comment by Clutch
2009-08-30 17:48:51

Besides a host of other, more relevant, thoughts, here’s one thing this brings to mind: the force that visual images can have in shaping public opinion. And that fact that the US government and the US media have agreed to keep virtually all graphic images of American, Iraqi, and Afghan dead and wounded out of the sight of the American public over the past seven years.


Comment by livius drusus
2009-08-30 18:05:22

Very true. The Till picture is always high on the those “images that changed the world” lists, along with the Vietnamese girl being running from the napalm and the self-immolating monks.

The lasting images from Gulf Wars and Afghanistan are … nonexistent. I can’t think of a one.

Comment by Anonymous
2009-08-30 18:10:56

the abu ghraib photos are pretty memorable I think.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-08-30 18:12:43

Oh, excellent point. I agree. I was thinking more of actual combat photos, but you are correct that the Abu Ghraib pictures will last long in the public consciousness.

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Comment by LadyShea
2009-09-01 10:42:57

That’s a strong Mama right there. And a vomitous crime. That poor boy.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-09-01 17:15:03

Agreed on all counts.

Comment by melia
2009-10-16 23:43:27

That really hurts, but she is a strong beautiful black woman. I really felt down because all he did was whistle at a white woman and they beat him and shot and then throw his body in the river how triffling low down so heartless but if i was her I swear I wouldve put them in the grave too and I wouldve been their position in prison im not ignorant im loving because that was has been through alot in to have this happen what a serious tragedy!

Comment by livius drusus
2009-10-17 00:03:42

It gets me too, especially that his murderers died unrepentant. What kind of twisted mind do you have to have to think that level of vicious, murderous racism is justice?

His mother was so strong it boggles my mind. I’m with you, I don’t know if I could have refrained from violence and despair in her place.

Comment by jasaiah
2009-12-17 16:40:00

hiii love you lol

Comment by Cass
2010-09-20 08:46:31

This is such a terrible crime. im a juinor and im learning about in my civics class im a bout to cry with all the pictures ive seen and storys ive been told bout it

Comment by livius drusus
2010-09-21 01:11:55

It is distressing, but I’m glad you’re learning about Emmett Till and lynching in your civics class. His mother wanted to be sure we all felt the impact of the brutality done to Emmett, and it’s proper that even decades removed we still do.

Comment by ciara
2010-10-21 20:56:00

.This is so sad how cruel and how twisted and human being mind could be. How could they even sleep at night knowing what they did to this poor african american child for whistleing at a white woman! I hope she suffered to and I know they are now dead and gone but all I can say is dear lord have mercy on there soul because we all know what goes around come back around.!

Comment by gina
2011-02-17 13:28:19

couldnt aqree with yew moree :cry:

Comment by Anonymous
2010-11-19 11:14:21

wow that is crazyi feel bad for the mom in this situation you think wat was wrong wit ppl. bacc then rasim gott you no where at all grimmy ppl!!!!

Comment by Melissa
2010-12-09 21:07:40

In school were reading how to kill a mocking bird and it deals with racism in the south and we just whatched this case in class. I don’t think anyone deserves what this poor child had to go through this is absolutely terrible and so disturbing that anyone in there right mind would do such a thing, like I understand yea it was back then when it was against the law’ but seriously this is absolutely terrible and no human being should have to go trough something like this…. I cried over and over because this is absolutely terrible I’m going to his grave one day to apologize what happened to him I’m ashamed to be white after this tradgity everyone was created equally and this is just plain out wrong I can go on for days about this but I don’t wanna take up anyones time so I just want to say emmit till you had NO reason to pass away like that and I personally am so sorry, I hope you have a wonderful peaceful life up in heaven with your mother and you’ll always be in my prayers <3

Comment by Anonymous
2011-02-08 09:44:08

:no: :( :eek: that was wrong what those people did to him andf i hope they rott in hellll

Comment by Anonymous
2011-02-17 13:18:09

:angry: crazy
idiots ppl :no:

Comment by gina
2011-02-17 13:19:09

assholesss :angry:

Comment by sofia
2011-02-18 22:08:31

this is terrible i dont get how ppl could do this :cry: :cry: :cry: :eek:

Comment by Anonymous
2011-04-12 14:03:08


Comment by Angel
2011-05-04 18:16:19

This is horriable!!!! :ohnoes: :blankstare: :confused: :no:

Comment by Anonymous
2011-05-10 02:27:58

:chicken: :confused: :cool: :cry: :eek: :evil: :facepalm: :giggle: :hattip: :lol: :love: :no: :notworthy: :ohnoes: :p :shifty: :skull: :thanks: :yes: ;) :boogie: :blush: :blankstare: :angry: :D :) :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(

Comment by Anonymous
2011-05-10 02:29:11

:cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry:

Comment by Anonymous
2011-12-11 18:21:06

THat i sso true .. that was not a good way to react to the cause

Comment by D.COl
2011-12-11 18:24:23

that was so dirty how they didi him .. that was not caused for .. and sorry to say i hate white people for what they did to Emmit .. R.I.P

Comment by D.COl
2011-12-11 18:27:43

that was so dirty how they did emmit .. and sorry to say but i hate all white people for what they did to him and i hope his killers rot in hell :angry: :angry: :angry: :angry: and i still cry about what happened and even though it was years ago i just still keep his family in my prayers R.I.P emmit Till :cry: :cry: :cry: :blankstare: :no: :no:

Comment by keven
2012-01-10 11:52:32

:angry: im mad what they if i was his i would kill then and make them suffer :angry:

Comment by isis
2012-02-02 10:06:00

they are the worst people ever to walk the earth :skull: :angry: :cry:

Comment by Anonymous
2012-05-19 18:45:20

I love Till and the book by his brilliant mother, Mamy, is really a well written document.
She became a teacher you know.
His murder was debolic as were his assassins and those who acquitted them. All those people were so down right blind and ignorant but Emmett Till and his suffering Mother and Grandmother pulled the horse blinds of America.
Emmette Louis Till should be declared a Saint because that his is. He was beautiful and loving in his day.
God bless you Till and all the angels hold you strong in their glory singing praises for all eternity fo your untimely sacrifice. Crucified for mankind.

Comment by Mike M
2012-05-24 19:14:27

@ D.COI:

“Hating all white people” for what two white men did to a black child is just as racist. As a white man myself, I don’t find this to be any less of a tragedy than you do, I assure you. It was beyond reprehensible.

I can hardly believe that Emmett actually did so much as whistle at that woman. Based on how the story constantly changed about what Emmett “did,” it was obviously a complete fabrication. Two red-neck southern good ‘ole boys, just wanted an excuse to kill an “uppity nigger,” and decided to make up a lie to get away with murder. They couldn’t even be consistent in their lies, those ignorant sons of bitches!

I bet Emmett was just standing there whistling to himself and those white so-called “men” knew it.

(I was gonna use the “angry” smiley guy, but it’s far too cute to express the heavy emotions over this subject matter; it will not do my expression of anger and sadness any justice.)

Comment by Mike M
2012-07-30 01:22:16

I see you removed that most recent comment. Good on you, livius! Shame people have to be that way…. :no:

Comment by livius drusus
2012-07-30 01:53:31

It’s disgusting, but that’s the Internet for you. There’s always someone poised to be disrespectful and ignorant. :(

Comment by mycondolences234
2012-10-16 20:49:38

emmett till’s mother was a storng woman and i feel soo bad for that poor boy excuse me but i really hope whoever did this got their
proper punishment

Comment by mycondolences234
2012-10-16 20:57:32

no actually i really hope those assholes went straight to hell every last person that was involved with this murder. he didint diserve this and i bet that carolyn bryant was a lying bitch and she obviously wanted more attention from her husband so she decides to get this poor boy killed !!!!!! he was 14 years old and she acts as if a 30 year old person said this show how mature she was. only two year old fight for attention

Comment by Anonymous
2012-12-10 15:46:36

How can you do such a thing to a humanbeing

Comment by Mike M
2012-12-11 19:50:43

Especially to an innocent child!

Comment by Anonymous
2013-01-18 16:52:48

im sorry for your loss

Comment by Anonymous
2013-04-19 08:13:27

What they did to that little boy is horrendous. But for you to say you hate an entire race for the actions of two men makes you just as ignorant as those bastards. Think before you speak.

Comment by MiKE M
2013-04-19 22:41:24

Anonymous: Who are you talking to? That was pretty random, wasn’t it?

Comment by Nunya
2013-08-24 17:59:46

It Really Hurts Meh To See Wht This Poor Boy Went Throo. I Mean Really ?? Who In There Rite Mind Wudd Sit There And Think “Imma Have This Nigger Killed For Whistling At Meh” ???? Personally I Don’t Get Why It’s Such A Strong Hate For One Race. I’m Black But I Don Hate White Ppl… But I Do Hate Those Who Killed Emmitt Because He Was Black. Then They Had No Remorse For Killen Him. A Beautifull Black Womans Son Was Killed Juss For Bein Black. It’s Really Sad How This 14 Yr Old Died Of Hatred And Been Beaten Really Badly. Every Time I Look At His Face I Want To Cry Over And Over.. And It’s Not Cause He’s Ugly.. Cause He’s Not…. But Because Some White Ppl Wanna Be Ignorant.. And I’m Juss Bein Real R.I.P. Emmitt

Comment by Anonymous
2013-09-05 12:40:02

the things white people do to colored be just dont make any since …

Comment by Anonymous
2013-10-31 14:06:07

that is some bullshit why in the hell is the casket in the cemetery JUSTICE FOR EMMIT MUTHAFUCKAS AYEEE!!!!!!1

Comment by Anonymous
2013-11-15 08:23:14

:cry: :cry: :cry: :cry: we are making a history day project for him and to learn about this is really hard

Comment by B.M.
2014-04-18 11:52:10

You hate all white people for this? Doesn’t that seem a bit racist you idiot? I’m sure if I were to say that I hate all blacks for the countless racial murders that they were involved where they killed specifically whites, you would think that’s racist, although that’s a fact. I am sick and tired of people like you who constantly talk about how there is still racism towards blacks when you are the reasons for it. The way YOU PEOPLE act is the reason there is still racism.

Comment by livius drusus
2014-04-18 12:46:34

Typical racist apologia. I suppose you think rape victims are asking for it too. Take it s somewhere else.

Comment by MiKE M
2014-04-24 11:23:58

You’re an ignorant fool. Yes, it is racist and ignorant for anyone to say “I hate all white people because blahblahblah.” That part is correct.

However, you are not only a fool, but a hypocrite to boot, to say the same things about blacks:

“I’m sure if I were to say that I hate all blacks for the countless racial murders that they were involved where they killed specifically whites, you would think that’s racist, although that’s a fact.”

Go jump off a bridge.

Comment by bb
2014-05-25 09:27:12

man im sorry to say this but I hate white people now and now when ever I play in my basketball games I am going to make them look so bad. :angry: but at the same time I kinda hate all white people from back then not now a days cause you cant be mad at everyone

Comment by MiKE M
2014-05-25 20:25:55

Pathetic. :blankstare:

Comment by Anonymous
2015-02-03 19:38:03

Well stated!! Hate can’t drive out hate only love can do that!

Comment by why
2019-02-08 11:41:15

:hattip: i fell bad for him and they should rot in hell :hattip:

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