She was born near a tiny town in Mississippi to strict fundamentalist parents and married Louis Till at age 18. They had Emmett nine months later, and Louis shipped out for WWII
while Emmett was still an infant. Louis and Mamie separated, and Louis was killed 3 years later.
Mamie wasn’t involved in the civil rights movement until Emmett was murdered, and if the case had been handled differently, maybe she never would have been, but that’s not how it went. After learning that her only child had been dragged from his bed, beaten, shot, and dumped in the river, she went to the mortician’s to see her son’s body and the mortician refused. She insisted, and she took Emmett’s body back to Chicago for an open casket funeral, where about 50,000 people saw his battered face and a picture taken there was widely circulated.
The Black Collegian Online states the importance of the funeral and picture as follows:
The murder of Emmett Till was the first media event of the Civil Rights Movement. It demonstrated the horrors of racism in an event circulated throughout America and around the world. African Americans clearly understood that all African Americans were under attack, that no African-American male in the South was safe. The murder of Emmett Louis Till was to African Americans what the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was to Americans in December 1941, or the attack of 9/11 to Americans of our own day. We therefore take refuge in telling you what happened only because why it happened is too difficult to handle, so irrational as to be incomprehensible.
"When people saw what had happened to my son, men stood up who had never stood up before."
—Mamie Till Bradley, Emmett's mother
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