Documentary Takes Look at Shameful Chapter of Southern History
The Untold Story of Emmett Till
In August of 1955, Mamie Till sent her 14 year-old son, Emmett, to visit
relatives in Mississippi. Raised in Chicago, far from the repressive social
structure of the South, the boy was unaware that he’d made an unforgivable
mistake when he reportedly whistled at a white girl he found attractive.
The lynching party which came for the young lad in the middle of the night
left his body utterly unrecognizable. In trying to identify the body, Mamie
looked at his disfigured face which was so blown apart that she could see
clear through his head.
Back then, due to America’s racist legal system, blacks had no recourse
against this sort of terroristic intimidation. And so the murderers got off
scot-free, after an all-white jury found them not guilty after laughingly
brief deliberations. The defendant even bragged about their exploits in a
Look Magazine interview where they blamed Till for not knowing his place.
For about a half century, the case remained dormant, primarily because of
the Constitutional protection against Double Jeopardy, being tried twice for
the same crime. However, in recent years, the Feds have started hauling
acquitted perpetrators back into court to charge them with separate Civil
Now, filmmaker Keith Beauchamp has successfully embarrassed the Feds into
re-opening the case. For in researching and conducting interviews for his
damning documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Till, he managed to coax
several critical eyewitnesses, previously too afraid of reprisals to talk,
to describe for his camera exactly what had transpired on the night in
The film also features some sweet moments of reflection by the
recently-deceased Mamie Till during which she wistfully reminisces about the
intelligent, curious and animated son taken away from her so brutally and so
senselessly. A touching but overdue expose’ of lynching as a shameful stain
on the country’s legacy.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 70 minutes
DVD Extras: Director’s commentary, a trailer gallery, an update on the case,
plus a featurette on the Harvard Civil Rights Project.