mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
The site of Emmett Till's kidnapping, Money, Miss., 1955.
The site of Emmett Till's kidnapping, Money, Miss., 1955.Ed Clark—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
The site of Emmett Till's kidnapping, Money, Miss., 1955.
J.W. Milam’s brother Leslie owned this barn near Drew, Miss. Before his murder, Emmett Till was pistol-whipped in the barn.
The store in Money, Miss., where Emmett Till allegedly flirted with Roy Bryant’s wife Carolyn.
A ring found on Emmett Till's body, which his great-uncle, the Rev. Mose Wright, used to identify his body. The ring belonged to Till's father.
A scene in Mississippi around the time of the trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, 1955.
Emmett Till's mother Mamie Bradley speaks to the press after her son's kidnapping and murder.
From left: Emmett Till's great-uncle, the Rev. Mose Wright; his mother Mamie Bradley; and his cousin Simeon Wright.
A crowd outside the Sumner, Miss., courthouse during the trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
Defendant J.W. Milam arrives at his trial in Sumner, Miss., where he is charged with the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
A scene in Sumner, Miss., during the trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
A scene during the trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
A scene during the trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
Defendants Roy Bryant, left, and J.W. Milam during their trial for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
Defendant Roy Bryant sits with his wife Carolyn and their children during his trial for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
Defendants J.W. Milam (left) and Roy Bryant (right)sit during their trial for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
Defendant J.W. Milam kisses his wife Juanita during his trial for the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
A sign in Sumner, Miss., site of the trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for the August 1955 kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.
The site of Emmett Till's kidnapping, Money, Miss., 1955.
Ed Clark—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
1 of 17

A Savage Season in Mississippi: The Murder of Emmett Till

Aug 01, 2013

In the summer of 1955, two men, both of them white, abducted a 14-year-old African-American boy named Emmett Till from his great-uncle's house in Money, Miss. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam beat Till almost to death, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head and then dumped his body — weighted by an enormous cotton-gin fan tied with barbed wire — in the Tallahatchie River.

Their motive: Till, visiting from his native Chicago, had reportedly flirted with — or, according to some accounts, spoken "disrespectfully" — to Bryant's wife a few days before.

When an all-white, all-male jury acquitted Bryant and Milam of kidnapping and murder in September, the verdict shocked observers across the country and around the world. And when, mere months later, the men openly admitted to Look magazine that they had, in fact, mutilated and murdered Till, the outcry was so intense — and the reaction of Till's devastated family so dignified — that it lit a spark that helped ignite the modern civil rights movement.

[See TIME's multimedia tribute to MLK and the 1963 March on Washington, "One Dream."]

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Bradley Library of Congress 
All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.