Emmett Till is not a household name, but his death impacted the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s in the United States. Chris Crowe, author of the award-winning Mississippi, 1955, set out to inform his readers in Getting Away with Murder about the controversial murder trial of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant. Till, a young black man, whistled at Roy Bryant’s wife. That much can be verified by other witnesses. Whether Till said or did more, only Till’s accuser can tell. Roy Bryant found out about the situation and decided to “teach that boy a lesson”. Bryant and his half-brother, Milam, grabbed Till from his great uncle’s house in the middle of the night, kidnapped him, beat him, and then shot him. Milam and Bryant tied a length of barbed wire around Till’s neck and to a gin fan and then threw Till’s dead body into the Tallahatchie River.
Emmett Till’s gruesome murder was followed by a trial riddled with injustice. Sheriff Clarence Strider locked up two witnesses to the murder and filed their paperwork under different names so that they could not testify at the trial, for instance. Milam and Bryant were found innocent of the murder of the 14 year-old boy. Years later, when Milam and Bryant could not be convicted of the same crime again because of double jeopardy, the two sold their story two a magazine and admitted to everything.
Crowe’s book does a good job presenting the facts. The second chapter does make a couple of guesses about what Emmett would like to do for fun based on what other boys his age enjoyed, but other than that it sticks pretty closely to interviews and media records.
At 121 pages, it’s a quick read that I recommend to introduce students to the civil rights movement. There are a ton of pictures, which is a necessity for nonfiction for the middle grade target audience. I’m proud of Crowe for including the photo of Till’s disfigured corpse because it’s that photo that caught people’s attention to what atrocities racism can lead to.