Emmett Till’s grisly lynching by two white men on the pretext that he flirted with one of their wives while the 14-year-old African American was just going to her shop to purchase candy is well-known. Less known is the fact that his father, an African American soldier, was lynched in Italy alongside another black man.
During World War II, Louis Till was a member of the Transportation Corps of the United States Army. An army court-martial found Till and another African-American private, Fred McMurray, guilty of raping two Italian ladies and murdering another during an air raid in 1944.
Although both men were hung, writer John Edgar Wideman is not convinced of their guilt. He believes the pair’s murder could not be taken at face value in a segregated US army at the time, where Blacks were despised and lied on even by their fellow white troops and superiors.
Wideman told NPR’s Scott Simon, “Neither Louis Till nor Fred McMurray ever had a chance.” “Long before anyone knew their names, it was decided that some black soldiers would be held responsible for these murders.”
In promoting his book ‘Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File,’ Wideman stated that Till and McMurray were not given a fair trial.
Till enlisted in the United States Army in 1943 after a judge gave him the option of joining the army or facing imprisonment for breaching a restraining order issued by his divorced wife Mamie Till. Till was born on February 7, 1922, and died on July 2, 1945, at the age of 23.
Till and McMurray were tried in court, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging.
Wideman stated that Till’s son Emmett, who was also murdered in the summer of 1955, would have received justice in death if the federal government had put pressure on Mississippi to prosecute the two men accused of the murder, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant.
All of that changed when the press learned that Till’s father had been sentenced to death in Italy for murder and rape. The teenager was presented as deviant by the Southern media, and as a result, the two killers were able to walk free.
Emmett Till’s horrific lynching in Mississippi became a national issue because of his mother’s insistence that his damaged body be returned to Chicago and that an open casket funeral is held for him, with images published by the prominent Jet Magazine.
Congress has finally adopted legislation classifying lynching as a hate crime under federal law, 65 years after Emmett Till’s suffering.
The bill, which was presented by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and is named after Till, comes 120 years after Congress first examined anti-lynching legislation and hundreds of similar attempts failed. Perhaps the untold lynching of Emmett Till and his father could have saved 4,000 other lynching victims, largely African Americans, if it had happened sooner.