In August 1955, the mutilated body of Emmett Till-a fourteen-year-old black Chicago youth-was pulled from Mississippi's Tallahatchie River. Abducted, severely beaten, and finally thrown into the river with a weight fastened around his neck with barbed wire, Till, an eighth-grader, was killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The nation was horrified by Till's death. When the all-white, all-male jury hastily acquitted the two white defendants, the outcry reached a frenzied pitch-spurring a fury that would prove critical in the mobilization of black resistance to white racism in the Deep South. In this sensitive inquiry, historian Stephen J. Whitfield probes Till's death; its ideological roots; the potent myths concerning race, sexuality, and violence; and the incident's enduring effects on American national life. As he recreates the trial, its participants, and the social structure of the Delta, Whitfield examines how white rural Mississippians actually tried "two of their own."
Though they were acquitted, these same defendants were soon being ostracized by their own neighbors, and within four months of Till's death, Southern blacks were staging the historic Montgomery bus boycott-the first major battle in the coming war against racial injustice that would lead to the passage of civil rights legislation a decade later.
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(235mm x 155mm x 15mm)
Johns Hopkins University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
The story of the 1955 kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, the myths and emotional climate of the South that condoned it and absolved his killers, and the impact of these events on the then-dormant civil-rights movement. A cheeky 14-year-old Chicago boy, Till may have acted on a dare when he walked into a small store in a Mississipi Delta village and reportedly asked the young white woman behind the counter for a date and then whistled at her. Her husband and his half-brother kidnapped him in front of the relatives he was visiting, pistol-whipped him in a remote barn, and then shot him. Despite conclusive evidence of guilt, a jury of rustics found the killers innocent on both counts. Till, says Whitfield (American Studies/Brandeis), was a victim of southern paranoia about black male sexuality. Convinced that equality would lead to rampant rape of "pure" white women and miscegnation, the South had mobilized to fight black voter registration attempts and defy Supreme Court-ordered school desegregation. The murder of Till and the subsequent firestorm of indignation may have encouraged Martin Luther King to lead the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott; the Till case, says Whitfield, was the "breaking point" of black meekness in the face of Jim Crow. Meticulously documented, this work illuminates our understanding of our era's dramatic changes in the relations between southern blacks and whites. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Stephen J. Whitfield
Stephen J. Whitfield is Max Richter Chair in American Civilization at Brandeis University. He is the author of A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till and A Critical American: The Politics of Dwight Macdonald