In the early morning hours of August 28th, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally ripped from his bed and drug into the wilderness. His body was discovered three days later, so severely disfigured that it could only be identified by a monogrammed ring on his finger.

Here’s how it all went down– and why it still matters.

Emmett Till murdered for whistling at a white woman

Before Emmett left to visit his family in Mississippi for the summer, his mother warned him to “humble himself” to whites. But just three days after arriving, he and his friends were hanging out on the stoop of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat enjoying refreshments.

Crime Watch Daily

It was there that Carolyn Bryant claimed the young man grabbed her around the waist, uttering obscenities. The retaliation was quick. Carolyn’s husband and his brother abducted the boy four days later. They beat him so savagely, he was unrecognizable.

Emmett’s death causes national outrage

Emmett’s mother, Mamie, knew that she couldn’t let those men get away with her son’s murder. She insisted that Emmett’s body be sent to Chicago, where she held an open-casket funeral. His body was on display for five full days.The Chicago Tribune and Jet magazine both ran photos of the viciously beaten boy.

Daily Beast

Despite the overwhelming evidence against them, both murderers walked free – and protests broke out around the country. Thousands took to the streets, wrote letters to the White House, and even the NAACP got involved. Emmett’s murder, perhaps more than anything else, helped get the American Civil Rights Movement rolling. 

Lasting change

Today, the Sumner Courthouse, where both of Emmett’s murderers were acquitted, is a center for projects aimed at truth and reconciliation. Sites related to his kidnapping and murder are part of the National Civil Rites Trail. And there are several museums dedicated to his honor.

Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area

Even more important than that, though, is the lasting effect Emmett’s death had on civil rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act are both a direct result of his murder. And perhaps most important of all— the Justice Department reopened his case in 2018.

Maybe Emmett will finally get the justice he deserves.