Civil Rights, History

Emmett Till archives being created at Florida State University

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by Zenitha Prince

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Afro American Newspaper

( —  It was a death that shocked the world and ignited a movement, and Florida State University is building what it hopes to be the premiere repository of historical material surrounding the life and death of Emmett Till.

Emmett Till
Emmett Till

The 14-year-old Chicago teenager was brutally kidnapped, tortured and murdered for allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year-old  white woman while visiting relatives in Money, Miss.

An all-white jury acquitted J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, two white men who were charged with Till’s brutal death on August 28, 1955, 60 years ago last month.

Milam and Bryant, half brothers, later boasted in a paid interview with Look magazine they murdered Till and tossed his beaten body into the Tallahatchie River. The killers tied a 70-pound cotton-gin fan with barbed wire wrapped around Till’s neck so his body would sink to the river’s bottom but three days later his body floated to the surface.

The injustice of this heinous crime, galvanized protests across the South and became one of the lightning rods that ignited the Civil Rights Movement. Milam and Bryant were half brothers. Bryant was Carolyn Bryant’s husband.

David Houck, a faculty member in FSU’s College of Communication and Information, is working with the university libraries’ Special Collections and Archives Division to create the nation’s foremost research collection of materials surrounding the Till case. Florida State University is in Tallahassee.

Till's face after he had been beaten to death.
Till’s face after he had been beaten to death.

“We’re very excited for this project because there is just simply nothing like it,” said Houck in a statement. “We’ve spent 20 years accumulating this material, most of which involved travel to Mississippi and archives around the South. It’s long past due that we had a ‘one-stop-archive’ for all things Emmett Till, and with this collection, we’ll finally have that.” The collection will include newspaper clippings, court records, interview transcripts and FBI investigation reports from the trial.

The archives will also include research material garnered by authors, including Houck, who co-wrote Emmett Till and the Mississippi Press; Devery Anderson, who authored, “Emmett Till: The Murder that Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement” and oral histories and interviews collected by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp for his documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.” The latter’s research was a key factor in convincing the FBI to reopen the Till case in 2004, garnering more than 8,000 new documents.

“These materials from some of the nation’s foremost Emmett Till researchers will be a great addition to our archives and an outstanding resource for students, researchers and civil rights historians worldwide,” said Katie McCormick, associate dean for Special Collections and Archives, in a statement. The collection will be available beginning in 2016 at the Special Collections Research Center at Strozier Library.

For updates on the Till collection, visit


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