The untold lynching of Emmett Till and father is a story worth telling. Emmett Till’s gruesome lynching at the hands of two white men under the guise that he flirted with one’s wife while the 14-year-old African American only went to her shop to buy candy is well known.
Less known is the fact that his father who served in the American army was also lynched along with another black soldier in Italy.
Louis Till was serving overseas in the Transportation Corps of the U.S. Army during World War II. Till and another African-American private, Fred McMurray, were found guilty by an army court-martial of raping two Italian women and murdering one during an air raid in 1944.
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Both men were hanged but writer John Edgar Wideman isn’t sold on the guilt of both men. He reckons in a segregated U.S. army of the time where Blacks were disrespected and lied on even by their fellow white soldiers and superiors, the pair’s murder couldn’t be taken on face value.
“Louis Till nor Fred McMurray ever had a chance,” Wideman informed NPR’s Scott Simon. “It was decided long before anybody even knew their names that some black soldiers are going to take the fall for these crimes.“
Wideman holds that Till and McMurray weren’t given a fair trial, promoting his book ‘Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File.’
Till enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 after a judge gave him a choice to enlist or be imprisoned for violating a restraining order against him by his estranged wife Mamie Till. Born on February 7, 1922, Till was killed on July 2, 1945, aged a mere 23 years.
Till, together with McMurray, were court-martialed, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
Wideman submits Till’s son Emmett, who was also lynched in the summer of 1955, would have received justice in death as the federal government put pressure on the state of Mississippi to penalize the two men – J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant – who were linked to the murder.
All that changed when the press got informed that Till’s father had committed murder and rape in Italy and been executed. The Southern media portrayed the youth as deviant and with that, the two killers got to walk free.
The untold lynching of Emmett Till and father in Mississippi became a national issue thanks to his mother’s insistence that his mutilated body be returned home to Chicago and an open casket funeral held for him with photos published by the influential Jet Magazine.
Sixty-five years after Emmett Till’s ordeal, however, Congress has finally approved legislation designating lynching as a hate crime under federal law.
The bill, introduced by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and named after Till, comes 120 years after Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation and after dozens of similar efforts were defeated. Perhaps, had the untold lynching of Emmett Till and father come earlier, it could have saved 4,000 other lynching victims, mostly African Americans.
The measure was approved 410 to 4 on Wednesday in the House and now goes to the White House, where President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.