TIME Civil Rights

How Emmett Till’s Murder Changed the World

Emmett Till
AP A photo of Emmett Till of Chicago prior to his 1955 death

Aug. 28, 1955: Emmett Till, a black teenager, is abducted by two white men in Mississippi and later murdered

In 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till traveled from his home in Chicago to stay with a great-uncle in Tallahatchie County, Miss., his mother was nervous. Though the world was changing — the Brown v. Board of Education decision had come the year before — the Deep South was still a dangerous place to be black. Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, who had grown up in the rural county (a “snake-infested swamp,” as TIME described it that year), warned him of the risks. She told him “to be very careful… to humble himself to the extent of getting down on his knees,” per TIME.

“Living in Chicago,” she explained at the trial of his murderers, “he didn’t know.”

The teenager was abducted at gunpoint from his great-uncle’s home on this day, Aug. 28, 60 years ago, by two white men who accused him of having whistled at a white woman in a grocery store. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River three days later. He had been brutally beaten and shot in the head.

An all-white jury acquitted the defendants (the husband and brother-in-law of the woman who complained about Till), who later confessed to the killing in a raw, unremorseful interview with Look magazine. One said that they had intended only to beat the teen, but decided to kill him when he showed no fear — and refused to grovel.

“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless,” J.W. Milam, the woman’s brother-in-law, is quoted as saying. “I’m no bully; I never hurt a [n—–] in my life. I like [n—–s] — in their place — I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, [n—–s] are gonna stay in their place.”

Because Milam and his accomplice had already been tried once for Till’s murder, the public confession did not yield more charges. But it provoked national outrage and became as powerful a catalyst in the civil rights movement as Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat just a few months later. As the Los Angeles Times later put it: “If Rosa Parks showed the potential of defiance, [some historians] say, Emmett Till’s death warned of a bleak future without it.”

Sixty years later, at a time when race relations are once more at the front of the American mind, Till’s name is still invoked as a reminder of the worst consequences of ignoring the problem. Not coincidentally, his story has inspired a resurgence of interest from historians and scholars as well as from TV and movie producers. Jay Z and Will Smith recently announced that they are collaborating on an HBO miniseries about him; Whoopie Goldberg is working on a film called Till, scheduled to begin production next year; and two more films are in the works, based on the book Death Of Innocence: The Story Of The Hate Crime That Changed America and the play The Face of Emmett Till, respectively.

Both the book and the play were co-written by Till’s late mother, who became a prominent civil-rights figure following her son’s funeral, when she insisted on an open casket so the world could see what had been done to him.

Read TIME’s original 1955 coverage of the Emmett Till case, here in the archives: Trial by Jury

TIME Courts

Lethal Injection Ruled Constitutional in Tennessee

After you: Good manners may prevail even in the death chamber
Edward McCain; Getty Images

Tennessee has not executed any death row inmates for five years as court battles have continued

A judge in Tennessee ruled Wednesday that the state’s lethal injection protocol is constitutional, ending a battle that has halted executions for more than five years.

Judge Claudia Bonneyman of Davidson County said the 33 plaintiffs—all inmates condemned to death—and their attorneys could not prove that the one-drug method of lethal injection Tennessee uses carries a risk of cruel and unusual punishment, a civil liberty guaranteed under the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. State rules call for the use of compounded pentobarbital for its lethal injections.

In doing so, Bonneyman cited a 2008 Supreme Court case referred to as Baze, which upheld the constitutionality of Kentucky’s lethal injection protocols, even in the case of a random error, The Tennessean reported.

This is Bonneyman’s second ruling on Tennessee’s capital punishment laws: In 2010, she ruled that Tennessee’s previous execution protocol of using three drugs for lethal injection was unconstitutional, as it allowed “for death by suffocation while conscious.”

Critics have argued that drugs used to induce lethal injection may cause extreme pain, and, in some cases, might prolong death or not kill at all.

Bonneyman’s ruling does not mean Tennessee will immediately reinstate executions, as appeals are almost certainly going to be filed. There are currently 67 inmates on death row in the state.

TIME Civil Rights

Civil Rights Activist Amelia Boynton Robinson Dies at 104

Obit Amelia Boynton Robinson
Jacquelyn Martin—AP President Barack Obama holds hands with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., left, and Amelia Boynton Robinson, right, who were both beaten during "Bloody Sunday," as they walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday," on March 7, 2015.

President Obama pushed her across a bridge in a wheelchair during a commemoration of the 1965 Selma march

(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) — Amelia Boynton Robinson, a civil rights activist who nearly died while helping lead the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in 1965, championed voting rights for blacks and was the first black woman to run for Congress in Alabama, died early Wednesday at age 104, her son Bruce Boynton said.

Boynton Robinson was among those beaten during the voting rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965 that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” State troopers teargased and clubbed the marchers as they tried to cross the bridge. A newspaper photo showing Boynton Robinson, who had been beaten unconscious, drew wide attention to the movement.

Fifty years later, Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, pushed her across the span in a wheelchair during a commemoration.

Boynton Robinson, who was hospitalized in July after having a major stroke, turned 104 on Aug. 18. Her son said she had been living in Tuskegee and was hospitalized in Montgomery. Boynton Robinson’s family said in a written statement that she was surrounded by relatives and friends when she died around 2:20 a.m.

In January, Boynton Robinson attended the State of the Union address as a special guest of Democratic Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, who said Boynton’s 1964 run for Congress paved the way for her. Sewell is Alabama’s first elected black congresswoman. Boynton was the first woman to run on a Democratic ticket in Alabama and the first black woman to run for Congress in the state, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

“Mrs. Boynton Robinson suffered grave injustices on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma at the hands of state troopers on Bloody Sunday, yet she refused to be intimidated,” Sewell said in January. “She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, my colleague Rep. John Lewis and thousands of others from Selma to Montgomery and ultimately witnessed the day when their work led to the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

Boynton Robinson had asked Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Selma to mobilize the local community in the civil rights movement. She worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped plan the Selma to Montgomery march. She was invited as a guest of honor to attend the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Her role in the event was reprised in the movie “Selma,” where she was portrayed by actress Lorraine Toussaint.

“The truth of it is that was her entire life. That’s what she was completely taken with,” Bruce Boynton said of his mother’s role in shaping the civil rights movement. “She was a loving person, very supportive — but civil rights was her life.”

Boynton Robinson, born in Savannah, Georgia, worked as an educator there and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Selma, Alabama. She educated local residents on food production, nutrition health care and more, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Tuskegee University officials have said Boynton Robinson graduated from the school in 1927 and in recent years donated much of her personal memorabilia from the 1950s and 1960s to the university.

Boynton said the family is planning events in his mother’s honor in Tuskegee and is also working to arrange a ceremony at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sept. 8.

TIME Television

Watch John Oliver Argue for Stronger LGBT Civil Rights

According to Oliver, the U.S. still has a long way to go

Marriage equality is the law across the U.S., according to the Supreme Court. However, on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight John Oliver noted that there are still plenty of ways in this country to “ruin a gay honeymoon.” That’s because while discriminating against same sex unions themselves is no longer legal, in many states it is still legal to discriminate against gay people when it comes to housing or employment, and photos of a same-sex marriage could result in someone losing their job. In Oliver’s opinion the only reason someone should be fired after their wedding is if their theme was “stolen office supplies.”

The fact that discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in various cases in 31 states may surprise people, said Oliver, showing a poll that said 71% of Americans thought employment discrimination was illegal. “That’s optimistic, but wrong,” noted Oliver. “Like thinking wearing vertical stripes are flattering or making your first condom purchase ‘magnum.’”

Oliver said extending civil rights to gay people should not solely be the provenance of the states, because while some ensure civil rights for all, other states adamantly do not. For example, Arkansas recently passed what Oliver described as an “anti-anti-discrimination” bill to prevent any city or county within the state to extend civil rights to gay people.

To test the water for a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, Oliver’s team reached out to all the presidential candidates but only heard back from four, although that included Rand Paul’s campaign who answered “We’ll pass. Thanks.”

TIME Culture

Why One Woman Poses Topless in Times Square

Times Square Topless
Tanya Basu Lucky, center, poses in Times Square in New York City on Aug. 19, 2015.

“I’m having fun and making good money. You can’t beat that"

Walking through New York City’s Times Square at night, it’s hard to miss Lucky.

The 21-year-old has blue-streaked blonde hair and wears skimpy black underwear, silver stilettos and—aside from red, white and blue body paint—nothing else. On a recent evening, she waved to passersby, flashed a grin, and asked, over and over: “Do you want a picture?”

“I’m having fun and making good money,” Lucky, who asked to be identified by her performance name, said as she took a break from her work. “You can’t beat that.”

Lucky is one of the desnudas, women who stroll topless in Times Square, attracting hoots and cheers from tourists and posing for photos in exchange for a tip. She’s from the South Bronx and began working as a desnuda shortly after she turned 18, drawn to the thrill of parading without clothes in one of the busiest intersections in the world.

But her livelihood, along with that of the other Times Square densudas, is now under threat. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo both spoke out this week against the topless entertainers, objecting not to their exposed breasts but instead to allegations that they harass tourists to hand over tips.

On Thursday, de Blasio announced a taskforce to investigate the desnudas, saying he would look for “legislative and regulatory solutions.” Cuomo separately told a reporter, “This activity is illegal.”

Lucky is not too worried about a potential crackdown yet; topless women have been legally protected in New York City since 1992, and she said she never pressures any of her customers for tips.

“The mayor actually helped us, if anything,” Lucky said of the wave of publicity that has accompanied de Blasio’s attack on her trade. “I don’t know if he thought it would stop us in Times Square—it’s actually going way better than before the mayor even acknowledged us, to be honest.”

When Lucky first started as a desnuda, she worked with a handler, who took up to 70% of her earnings. She soon tired of handing over hundreds of dollars at the end of each evening shift and struck out on her own, painting her body herself and keeping all the money she earns.

She’s learned the ebb and flow of the business, taking off Mondays or Tuesdays because they’re slowest.

“After a weekend, people are pretty much broke,” she said. “Nobody wants to pay a naked girl.”

She fights back against anyone who thinks she doesn’t work hard, and said she budgets carefully to make the money last through the year.

“You can have a bad day when you go home only with $100. You can have a really good day when you go home with $1,000,” she said. “In the summertime, I save all the money. It’s impossible to spend $1,000 a day. In the wintertime, that’s my backup plan right there.”

Although Lucky is a little concerned about the “bad apple” desnudas who are more aggressive ruining the Times Square scene for everyone, she said she’s planning to just keep doing her job.

And with that, she stomped out her cigarette and stripped off her oversize “I Love NY” shirt, ready for another shift.

“I love it. I do,” Lucky said, heading back to her busy corner in the center of Manhattan. “I like the expressions on people’s faces when they see me.”

Read next: New York Mayor Launches Task Force to Address Topless Women in Times Square

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TIME Civil Rights

See Julian Bond’s Life in Photos

The longtime civil rights leader and board chair of the NAACP died at 75. He was considered a symbol and icon of the 1960s civil rights movement

TIME Civil Rights

Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond Dies at 75

Bond was a longtime board chairman of the NAACP

(FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla.) — Julian Bond, a civil rights activist and longtime board chairman of the NAACP, died Saturday night, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

He was 75.

Bond died in Fort Walton Beach, Florida after a brief illness, the SPLC said in a statement released Sunday morning.

The Nashville, Tenn. native was considered a symbol and icon of the 1960s civil rights movement. As a Morehouse College student, Bond helped found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and as its communications director, he was on the front lines of protests that led to the nation’s landmark civil rights laws.

Bond later served as board chairman of the 500,000-member NAACP for 10 years but declined to run again for another one-year term in 2010.

The SPLC said Bond was a “visionary” and “tireless champion” for civil and human rights.

“With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice,” SPLC co-founder Morris Dees said in a statement. “He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all.”

Bond also served in the Georgia state legislature and was a professor at American University and the University of Virginia.

MORE: Julian Bond and others talk to TIME about Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic speech.

“Very few throughout human history have embodied the ideals of honor, dignity, courage and friendship like Dr. Julian Bond,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Quite simply, this nation and this world are far better because of his life and commitment to justice and equality for all people. Future generations will look back on the life and legacy of Julian Bond and see a warrior of good who helped conquer hate in the name of love. I will greatly miss my friend and my hero, Dr. Julian Bond.”

Bond is survived by his wife, Pamela Horowitz, a former SPLC staff attorney; his five children, Phyllis Jane Bond-McMillan, Horace Mann Bond II, Michael Julian Bond, Jeffrey Alvin Bond, and Julia Louise Bond; his brother, James Bond; and his sister, Jane Bond Moore.

TIME Civil Rights

Prison Escape Prompted Inmate Beatings

FILE - In this June 15, 2015, file photo, corrections officers watch an intersection in front of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. David Sweat and Richard Matt escaped from the prison June 6. Sweat was captured on Sunday, June 28; Matt was shot and killed Friday June 26. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Mark Lennihan—AP Corrections officers watch an intersection in front of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., on June 15, 2015.

Officers are said to have beat prisoners while handcuffed, choked them, and slammed them against walls

The escape of convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat in June launched a weeks-long manhunt that drew national attention.

Now, a New York Times report on Tuesday says the escape also led to a “campaign of retribution,” with inmates along the same block of units as Matt and Sweat being subject to violence that included beatings while handcuffed, chokings, and head slams.

Sweat and Matt’s housing area—called the “honor block” as it was an earned privilege for prisoners who had exhibited good behavior—was especially targeted, with many inmates being moved from the Clinton Correctional Facility to other prisons. Some were placed in solitary confinement, a reversal of the prison conditions they had earned, despite there being no confirmed link between other prisoners and the escapees.

Sixty inmates have filed official complaints with Prisoners’ Legal Services, a group that assists inmates with their legal rights. The Department of Corrections’ Office of Special Investigations has also become involved.

Read more at the New York Times.

TIME Civil Rights

50 Years After Watts: The Causes of a Riot

Aug. 20, 1965
Cover Credit: AP / UPI The Aug. 20, 1965, cover of TIME

'I think the real cause is that Negro youth—jobless, hopeless—does not feel a part of American society'

It was Aug. 11, 1965, that Los Angeles police officer Lee Minikus tried to arrest Marquette Frye for driving drunk in the city’s Watts neighborhood—an event that led to one of the most infamous race riots in American history. By the time the week was over, nearly three dozen people were dead. TIME’s coverage from those incendiary days offers insight into why Watts erupted–and lessons for the current charged moment in America.

Fifty years ago, Watts was a potent combination of segregation, unemployment and racial tension. Though legally integrated, 99% of students at the high school that served Watts were black, and the school—like many of the services available to the neighborhood—was not serving them well. “Watts is the kind of community that cries out for urban renewal, poverty programs, job training. Almost anything would help. Two-thirds of its residents have less than a high school education; one-eighth of them are technically illiterate,” TIME noted in a cover story about the riots. “Only 13% of the homes have been built since 1939—the rest are decaying and dilapidated.”

Jobs, meanwhile, were scarce. The federal government’s Office of Economic Opportunity, run by John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, called out Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty for running the only major city in the United States without an anti-poverty program, and for being one of only two big city mayors to refuse a confidential offer of federal money meant for job programs. TIME credited a federal program that created 4,000 jobs for helping keep Harlem calm that summer, despite unrest the year before. Yorty, in turn, accused Shriver’s agency of withholding funds.

Nor were tensions calmed by police, as TIME’s piece a week later —headlined “Who’s to Blame?”—made clear. L.A. police chief William Parker was a divisive figure who compared Watts rioters to “monkeys in a zoo.” Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as saying that in Watts “[there] is a unanimous feeling that there has been police brutality” despite the fact that a 1962 Civil Rights Commission investigation was unable to pin down specific instances.

Seeking to explain the underlying causes of the riots as they were happening, TIME surveyed leading civil rights figures of the day. The magazine found most shared a common sentiment—one that may be familiar to current readers. “I think the real cause is that Negro youth—jobless, hopeless—does not feel a part of American society,” said movement leader Bayard Rustin. “The major job we have is to find them work, decent housing, education, training, so they can feel a part of the structure. People who feel a part of the structure do not attack it.”

Read more from 1965, here in the TIME Vault: Trigger of Hate

TIME cities

What’s Changed in Ferguson a Year After Michael Brown—and What Hasn’t

Looking back on the anniversary of a deadly shooting

Sunday marks one year since white former police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., sparking weeks of often-violent protest and a still-running national debate about race and police use-of-force.

A grand jury opted not to indict Wilson, who recently gave his first extensive interview in months, saying he’s “not going to keep living in the past.” Activists are using the anniversary weekend to stage what they promise will be peaceful protests and vigils. Police are on alert for any sign that the anniversary could bring renewed violence.

But as the town tries to move on, what has changed and what hasn’t? Here’s a where-are-they-now guide to some of the people and issues on the ground.

Darren Wilson

Wilson, no longer with the police force, lives somewhere in St. Louis County. His exact location remains a closely-guarded secret amid continuing threats. Supporters have raised more than $500,000 for his legal defense and protection, but Wilson still hasn’t been able to find work, according to a profile in The New Yorker. “It’s too hot an issue, so it makes me unemployable,” he told the magazine.

A grand jury declined to indict him in the shooting, and federal investigators cleared him of any wrongdoing under federal law.

The people in charge

Michael Brown’s death briefly turned a number of city and state officials into household names. A year later, some remain in office after surviving the tumult of a national spotlight. Others have resigned and disappeared.

Captain Ron Johnson, who rose to prominence as an official face of calm amidst the tensions, remains in his position at the Missouri State Highway Patrol. County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, criticized for his handling of the grand jury process, also remains in his position.

Other law enforcement officials have had a tougher time keeping their jobs. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, for instance, has withstood countless calls for his resignation and even a recall campaign. Knowles said he would remain in his position to continue “bringing us together, moving us forward.”

But Thomas Jackson, the Ferguson Police Chief, resigned following a scathing federal report. He said the city needed “to move forward without any distractions.” Other Ferguson police officers and city officials also resigned after the Justice Department report found they had sent racist emails.

The investigations

The Department of Justice launched two separate investigations following the shooting. The first, conducted in coordination with the FBI, investigated the shooting itself and whether Wilson’s decision to shoot Brown violated federal civil rights law. That investigation, which concluded in March, corroborated Wilson’s account of the incident and cleared him of any legal or civil rights violations.

The second investigation, which also concluded in March, looked at the Ferguson Police Department’s practices more broadly. Federal authorities found patterns of racial bias that included unwarranted arrests of blacks and use of excessive force. The city has since been in negotiations with the Justice Department to enter into a so-called consent decree, which would create formal guidelines for reform.

The local economy

Many local businesses boarded up in the weeks and months following the fiercest riots, but hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from local business development groups has kept most from closing permanently. They may not be flourishing, but they are surviving. In the first weeks following the clashes between protesters and police, the St. Louis Regional Business Council offered interest-free grants to dozens of local businesses, said Kathy Osborn, the group’s executive director—places like bakeries, restaurants and flower shops that might have otherwise closed their doors.

While small businesses may be getting by, the local government faces tough choices thanks to a sharp decline in revenue. Income from tickets—the DOJ report found systemic targeting of minorities as a means of raising revenue—is expected to fall by $1 million from the 2013-2014 budget to the 2014-2015 budget. The city’s total operating budget is about $14 million, Reuters reports.

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