The story of Emmett Till’s death at the hands of white Mississippians is well known. For many Americans, it highlights the racism of the Jim Crow South and was a defining moment that helped galvanize a generation of civil rights leaders. In his new book, Elliott J. Gorn
(Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago) tells the story of Till’s life and death. The death and trial was a national and international news story, but the exact meaning of events in Mississippi were contested. Moreover, the horrific images of Till’s badly beaten body were published in black publications at a time of a segregated media landscape. Most white Americans did not see them until decades later. In Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till
(Oxford University Press, 2018), Gorn also tells this story of the story of Till’s death—examining how responses to the death varied across the population and showing how public memory of Till’s murder has changed over the intervening years.
In this episode of the podcast, Gorn discusses Till’s life, death, and legacy. He explains what happened and how it was received at the time. He also discusses why Till’s death drew so much attention, and how that attention fit into the larger historical context. He touches on why his death feels especially timely today. Finally, he discusses the experience of researching the book.
Christine Lamberson is an Associate Professor of History at Angelo State University. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th century U.S. political and cultural history. She’s currently working on a book manuscript about the role of violence in shaping U.S. political culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She can be reached at email@example.com.