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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

on January 3, 2015
An excellent retelling of an event that changed the course of American history.

There have been thousands of people lynched in the United States over the past centuries. Not all of them are remembered. Not all the victims have names. We have let them slide into obscurity, even though at the time there were photographs, newspaper articles, journals, and even post cards celebrating these deaths.

Emmet Till was a young boy, barely a teenager, who was living in Mississippi in the early 50s, sent there from Chicago to be "safe." While there he made the mistake of breaking one of the many rules that Negroes (the term used in the 50s for African Americans) had to follow in order to be slightly more safe from violence done by whites.

He was tortured and lynched by a gang of white men (yes, grown adults attacking a young boy); his body was then chained to an industrial fan and thrown into the river. He was found and his family held a funeral for this boy who had done nothing more serious than be full of life.

What made the difference was a combination of things. His funeral was open casket. The photographs of his tortured body were printed in many newspapers and magazines. And finally America had enough of open season on African Americans. This was, I think, a seminal moment in the civil rights movement: the awareness that there were these people among us, Americans living in America, who were cruelly treated, marginalized, and silenced; this book recounts the moment when the story broke free to the larger public mind.

There was a trial (an all-white jury, defense team, and judge), and the accused were found NOT guilty; later, these same men confessed they had done it to a magazine, afforded protection from prosecution by the constitutional guarantees of no double jeopardy.

But in the larger trial by the American public, the men were guilty, and there was a a sea change. Lynching was brought to light in the minds of the American public. Lynching was no longer something that could be done with public approval. Its victims were no longer nameless and faceless.

The story is told by means of newspaper and magazine clippings. There is a narrative stringing it together, but it is mostly direct quotes from the contemporary accounts.

It is very well told.
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on October 3, 2006
The Emmett Till story is one of the most unpleasant and gruesome in American history, but this book is one of the best I've read on the subject. It is a compilation of contemporary news articles, poems, songs, essays, and remembrances of the Till case (one is a 1955 interview with Mrs. Mamie Till, Emmett's mom). The side of the bigots is also given, as well as a disgusting interview with one of the murderers, but it helps the book to become a more complete anthology showing the sickness of the murderers (and others who thought like them) as well as the good guys in the case.

As a historian, I'll admit that this does not make pleasant reading, but it is a fascinating look at what racism could cause and is a worthy read.
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on June 20, 2003
Some might say the 1950s should provide the history, while we in the 21st century provide the analysis -- particularly in matters of race, where the discourse of fifty years ago might be thought too embryonic to add anything to today's sophisticated discussions. Think again. More than half the pages of Chris Metress's `The Lynching of Emmett Till' are devoted to writings contemporary with the famous case. These pieces display not only the passion and immediacy you would expect -- and which are invaluable for the modern reader -- but also great shrewdness, subtlety, and eloquence, as they report on what one writer calls a "total, unavenged obliteration." (Not every contributor is sympathetic to Till, by the way; just one example is an announcement from the American Anti-Communist Militia claiming that Till is alive and well in California!)
The rest of the book, made up of pieces written in the years since, shows how the Till tragedy has lingered in the American imagination and conscience. Metress collects remarkable meditations on the Till case by Anne Moody, John Edgar Wideman, Langston Hughes, among others. It is quite incredible how Till has loomed in these writers' thoughts. (The book even includes a really awful - and, fortunately, disowned -- song by Bob Dylan.)
Metress's commentary fully situates the reader in all the various contexts but is never overbearing. This is a book of voices; Metress is a superb listener.
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on May 12, 2003
I was not impressed. What I thought would be a thorough treatment of Till's lynching was instead a collection of others' work. So many different points of view makes it impossible to read as a narrative or as history. Interesting, yes, and the book has its place as a source of accounts written at the time of the murder and trial, but other books do a better job of presenting a complete account. If you get this book as a companion piece to other works, do yourself a favor and skip the author's commentary.
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on September 22, 2013
This is the most thorough back story of the murder of Emmett Till left on the market. Many other historical accounts are no more than anecdotal stories, but this one is filled with second party source material that if much more reliable. Overall the book shows that there were undoubtedly two bodies presented to the public after the murder - one a drowned victim of terrific physical abuse that had been in the water too long to be the body of a boy killed only three days before, and another body that Mamie Till received and buried, that was likely the real one. The entire story is analyzed along these lines, and makes the formula that appears on almost every website and blog seem highly questionable. At the same time, Mr. Metress does not resort to wild speculation, so that one may draw one's own conclusions.
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on March 25, 2016
Very intense discussion showing how attitudes vary throughout the country
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on March 20, 2013
The book details the aspects of the murder of Emmett Till and the reaction to it over time.
It covers the horrors of the murder through essays, articles, and such.

I learned much from reading this.
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on August 11, 2003
Earlier I gave a lukewarm review of this book. In hindsight, the book just was not what I expected. I expected a more narrative history and was disappointed when I did not get it. But that was not the author's intent. What is done here, is done exceptionally well. Truly fascinating. I'm so glad I picked it back up so I can correct the record.
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on February 21, 2005
This is an excellent collection of documents relating to the lynching of Emmett Till. However, it should be noted that Metress does not provide any real commentary on the documents which he has selected. This is a good book for those interested in writing on the Till or the southern press, and for those with the background knowledge to put the documents presented in a contextual backgound.
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