In a public statement, President Barack Obama has called the Martin case a “tragedy” and has asked for the American people “to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
Some have compared the senseless killing of 17-year-old Martin to that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was killed by racists in Glendora, Miss., in 1955. The Chicago native was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was accused of molesting Carolyn Bryant, a white woman in a town grocery store. A few nights later, the woman’s husband and his half-brother pulled Till from the bed of his great-uncle’s cabin as his cousin, Simeon Wright, watched in fear.
Till’s body, along with a 75-pound cotton gin fan tied to his neck and a bullet hole through his head, was found in the Tallahatchie River in Money, Mississippi by fishermen. Till’s own mother could only identify him by jewelry and the shape of his ears. He was beaten so badly his brain had to be removed before his burial. The life of Emmett Till was destructively ended for more reasons of being ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time and in front of the wrong people.’
Emmett Till’s killers were arrested on kidnapping charges and eventually acquitted. News of Till’s murder spread internationally after a gruesome photo of his battered and mutilated body was published on the cover of Jet Magazine. Mamie Till wanted the vision of her son to resonate with the community as an example of pure hatred and racism so she ordered an open casket funeral. The lives of Roy Bryant and John Milam, along with Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, who had already lost her husband in the war, were never the same.
In a January 24, 1956 article, Look magazine published a story written by William Bradford Huie called, “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi.” Huie paid Roy Bryant and John Milam $4,000 for their story on how they killed Emmett Till. In a follow-up one year later, both men had lost their businesses (which had served the local black community) and were shunned by their white counterparts.
John Milam died in 1980 from cancer and Roy Bryant died ten years later, also of cancer.
Even today, there is still an heir of mystery behind Emmett Till’s murder, with unanswered questions about the accomplices and the trial.
Questions now arise in the wake of the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, in comparison to the acquittal in 1956 for Roy Bryant and John Milam, killers of Emmett Till.