TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, on August 24, 1955, when he reportedly flirted with a white cashier at a grocery store. Four days later, two white men kidnapped Till, beat him and shot him in the head. Florida State University will commemorate the events by establishing a research collection in Till’s honor.
Till was from Chicago, Illinois, visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region, when he spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the married proprietor of a small grocery store there. Several nights later, Bryant’s husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam went to Till’s great-uncle’s house. They took Till away to a barn, where they beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it down with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. Three days later, Till’s body was discovered and retrieved from the river.
The men were tried for murder, but an all-white, male jury acquitted them. Till’s murder and open casket funeral galvanized the emerging Civil Rights Movement.
Friday, August 28, will mark the 60th anniversary of his murder. The Florida State University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives Division and Professor Davis W. Houck will honor the anniversary by establishing what will become the foremost research collection on the life and death of Emmett Till.
“We’re very excited for this project because there is just simply nothing like it,” said Houck, a faculty member in the College of Communication and Information who authored “Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press.” “We’ve spent 20 years accumulating this material, most of which involved travel to Mississippi and archives around the South. It’s long past due that we had a ‘one-stop-archive’ for all things Emmett Till, and with this collection, we’ll finally have that.”
The collection will be available beginning in 2016 at the Special Collections Research Center at Strozier Library and will feature newspaper coverage from the Till murder trial and court proceedings by domestic and international press, and materials from FBI investigations, court records and interview transcripts.
Author Devery Anderson will contribute a comprehensive collection of newspaper articles, genealogical work, interview transcriptions and obscure magazine articles used to write his recently released book, “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement.” Anderson’s research not only tells the story of the Till case as it unfolded in 1955, but follows the case to the present day, incorporating the FBI’s investigation and source materials, including a complete trial transcript.
Interviews and oral histories gathered by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp for his Emmy-nominated documentary, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” will also comprise part of the archive. Beauchamp’s research was pivotal in convincing the FBI to re-open the case in 2004 — an investigation that resulted in more than 8,000 pages of important material.
“These materials from some of the nation’s foremost Emmett Till researchers will be a great addition to our archives and an outstanding resource for students, researchers and civil rights historians worldwide,” said Katie McCormick, associate dean for Special Collections and Archives.