Through the lyrics of Kanye West, a new generation has been introduced to the name Emmett Till as signaling the most brutal incarnations of racism, as has Marilyn Nelson's acclaimed volume of sonnets, “A Wreath for Emmett Till.” The fifteen-year-old Chicago boy, murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi, has been commemorated with historic markers and the names of roads and schools. This volume in the Crime Scene Investigation series provides a vivid nonfiction account of the legal case brought against Till's attackers while vividly probing both the circumstances of the crime and the culture surrounding it.
Beginning with his introduction, Robson goes to great pains to contrast the segregation that existed in Chicago with that of the Jim Crow Deep South. Till's interactions with Carolyn Bryant, a white store clerk, sparked a series of events leading to his kidnapping from his uncle's home, torture, and murder. The incident is presented in a compelling and suspenseful narrative format, including speculation about motivations and actions culled from the historical record.
While Carolyn's husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milan, were arrested within 48 hours of Till's disappearance and held without bond, they were eventually found not guilty by jury trial after the defense presented expert testimony that the body pulled from the Tallahatchie River could not be Till's due to the advanced state of decomposition. The defense argued the corpse had been in the water long before his kidnapping, despite the fact that a ring, which had been Till's father's, was used for identification and a fan of the variety used to weigh Till's corpse being conspicuously missing from a barn where a third brother worked as foreman. Subsequent efforts to bring the men to justice failed as well.
Black and white photographs poignantly document Till's mother's grief, as well as his Mississippi relatives' hardscrabble living conditions, and the theatrical courtroom posturing on the part of the defendants. The book does not include the graphic images of Till's battered remains lying in state, which became a touchstone for many who lived through the era.
As a part of Lucent's Crime Scene Investigations series, the book uses a procedural format to outline the crime, the subsequent investigation and trial, the physical evidence, the eyewitnesses and the reopening of the case in 2005. DNA evidence ultimately proved that the body in the casket, sealed fifty years earlier by the state of Mississippi, was indeed Till. The book is as equally applicable to the study of the Civil Rights era or to forensic science. The Montgomery bus boycott instigated by Rosa Parks happened only a few months after Till's murder.
The book is well-sourced with endnote citations documenting the original source material, a brief glossary, an index, and a bibliography of books, periodicals, online sources, and websites. Text boxes focus on relevant historical details, such as the Great Migration, "The Defender", and lynching, which is a term derived from Thomas Lynch, an American Revolutionary-era judge who approved the hanging of British sympathizers without due process. Recommended for school and public libraries.