Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

September 10, 1955

On September 10, 1955, the Chicago Defender reported community members and local officials were demanding the federal government investigate the murder of Chicago teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi. “The whole state of Mississippi is going to pay for this thing,” Till’s mother Mamie Bradley said. “He was a good boy. I know he didn’t do anything to deserve that.” The Defender also ran a full-page of pictures showing Bradley receiving her son’s body at Chicago’s Illinois Central Station. Till was abducted from his great-uncle’s home on August 28 by two white men who accused the fourteen-year-old of whistling at a white woman. The men, who beat Till and shot him in the head, were acquitted by an all-white jury but later confessed to the killing in an interview with Look magazine.

The Till case received national and international attention and was covered extensively in the black press. This article is the first of many reports the Chicago Defender ran on the Till murder, and it offers important context for understanding what this horrific murder meant in 1955:

The NAACP charged that Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by killing children...Mississippi had been free of lynchings since 1951 until last May. Young Till is the third person to fall in Mississippi’s “anti-Negro war” in less than five months. The Rev. George W. Lee, 51, was blasted to death by unknown persons in Belzoni, Miss., and Lamar Smith, 63, was shot to death virtually on the court house steps in Brookhaven on Aug. 13. Both had been active in the voter registration drive. The situation in Mississippi has been growing steadily worse since the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools on May 17, 1954. Whites in the state have organized themselves into groups known as the Citizens Councils and have attempted to effect an economic freeze in order to force Negroes to stop ‘agitating’ for integration.

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